Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XXXVII

If it is obvious that you are not the victor but merely an instrument, as it were, and that it is the Lord who is victorious in you, and that you receive the title of victor as a free gift, then what can hinder you from asking at all times for that same strength, what can hinder you from winning the same victories while you give thanks to God for this? Have you not heard, O man, how many champions from the foundation of the world and the beginnings of time have fallen from the height of their struggle because they did not give thanks for this grace?

Homily 37 (p. 315).

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Sui Juris Churches II: The Syriac Maronite Church of Antioch

(On sui juris churches generally)

Liturgical Family: Antiochene

Primary Liturgical Language: Syriac (Christian Aramaic)

Juridical Status: Patriarchal

Approximate Population: 3,000,000. It is difficult to get a very exact and reliable number, because Maronites are found all over the world, often in small pockets that are difficult to survey, but there are nearly a million in Lebanon alone, where they form more than a fifth of the population.

Basic History: Eastern Catholic churches are each distinctive, but the Maronites stand out as unusually distinctive in that very distinctive family. The Maronite Catholic Church is the only Eastern Catholic church that has no non-Catholic counterpart; all the others derive from Eastern Orthodox or Oriental Orthodox churches. It is the only particular church named after a saint, and the only one that developed out of a specific religious movement. Its ties with Rome are unusually close, and it emphasizes the importance of monastic and eremitic life far more than any other particular church in the communion. The Maronite Patriarch is unusually central to the identity of the church. And while Eastern Catholic histories can be quite complicated, the history of the Maronite Church is not so much complicated as obscure at important points; even the order of important events is not always clear, and what follows should at times be taken with a grain of salt.

St. Maroun/Maron/Maro was an ascetic hermit who lived in Syria in the late third and early fourth century. The asceticism he practiced, inspired by St. Anthony the Great, was unusually stringent -- he lived in the open air in the very harsh weather of the region. People began to imitate him, and communities of Christians became associated with the Maronite ascetics. In the fifth century, during the Monophysite controversy, the Maronites seem to have opposed the Monophysites, with the result that a significant number of them were forced to flee to the mountains of Lebanon for refuge. Much of our knowledge of the church at this time is from a preserved correspondence between the Maronite monks of Syria Secunda and Pope Hormisdas. The monks appealed to Hormisdas for support in their own support for the Council of Chalcedon; he responds to them with encouragement.

The crisis that would turn the Maronite movement into a church in its own right occurred in the seventh century with the Muslim invasion of Syria, an event that found the Maronites isolated. What exactly happened is one of the obscurities of Maronite history, but a line of Maronite Patriarchs of Antioch arose, independent of the Patriarchs of Antioch recognized by Constantinople. The first Maronite Patriarch is usually considered to be St. John Maron; nobody knows for sure how he became patriarch at all, since the stories that have survived are inconsistent, but we do know that the Maronites had had uneasy relations with the Byzantines for quite some time. Things get only more obscure over time; contemporary outside sources suggest that the Maronite monks were Monothelites, rejecting the Third Council of Constantinople, but we don't really know the foundation for this accusation, and none of the sources seem to have any particular incentive for being scrupulous in making it. It could be a misunderstanding; or it could be that there were both Monothelite and orthodox groups among them, as there were everywhere else; or one could take it all at face value. Whether the Maronites were ever Monothelite is one of the major controversies of Maronite history.

Secure in the mountains of Lebanon, too fortified for Muslim armies to dislodge them, the Maronites remained as the world changed around them. Very little is known about the Maronites during this period; for all practical purposes they had disappeared. And then in the eleventh century they were rediscovered, to everyone's surprise, in the First Crusade. The meeting would change the Maronite church forever. The Crusaders were glad to find a Christian bastion right in the midst of Muslim occupation, and the Maronites were glad in turn no longer to be alone. Throughout the Crusades, Crusader and Maronite worked together quite closely, and in the twelfth century, the Maronite Patriarchs began to be officially recognized by Popes. This recognition has been unbroken ever since.

Times changed yet again, and the Crusades faded away. The Mamelukes dominated, resulting in many, many Maronite martyrdoms. Had Mameluke rule continued for a few centuries longer, there would be no Maronites today. But the Mamelukes too faded, to be replaced by the Ottoman Turks, who reorganized the region into the Principality of Lebanon. The first head of this Principality, Prince Fakher el Din al Maani I, was a man of considerable foresight. He was not Muslim but Druze, but he had supported the Ottomans loyally, and the Principality was his reward for it. He forged an alliance between Druze and Maronite that ended up being extraordinarily fruitful, and which is the soil out of which modern Lebanese culture grew.

Turkish rule, too, eventually passed, and was replaced by the French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon after World War I. Ever since, a great deal of Maronite history has been bound up in the fortunes of Lebanon. Maronite Catholics and French Catholics had much in common, and thus the Maronites did quite well under the Mandate; this is one reason why Lebanon was the only part of the Mandate that wasn't mostly a disaster (although even that might be questioned) -- Muslim resistance to French plans for dividing the region was itself counterbalanced in Lebanon by Maronite support for them. This solidified Lebanon as a state -- for a while, the one and only Arabic state that was not predominantly Muslim. The opposition between Maronite and Muslim came to a head in 1958 with a civil war, which the Maronites won with American assistance. But as time has passed, Lebanon has become increasingly Muslim and decreasingly Maronite, for reasons not entirely clear -- the usual explanation is that Maronites are more likely to emigrate and that Muslim birthrates are slightly higher, but we don't even have good numbers on the relative proportions, and you will find that different sources say different things on the subject.

So Maronite history, obscure in its beginning, still has its obscurities even today. But the Maronite Church is unquestionably and enthusiastically Catholic, and has clearly been in continuous communion with Rome for nearly a thousand years -- and while we have to lose the 'clearly' if we are being cautious, Maronites themselves will insist quite vehemently that they have always been in communion with Rome. And there is no definite evidence that they have not been. They certainly have not been formally excommunicated at any point, and the only period in their history where there is any room for doubt at all is that relatively brief period in which we have a few outside observers calling them Monothelites, a small scrap of evidence whose significance is debated; and the heresy shows no identifiable influence at all on anything in Maronite spirituality, liturgy, or theology. Regardless, it's an essential part of how the Maronite Church sees itself: alongside Rome as one of the two most stable pillars of the Catholic communion.

Notable Monuments: Many of the most notable monuments of the Maronite Church are in or near the Qadisha Valley of Lebanon, also known as the Holy Valley: Bkerke, the official seat of the Maronite Patriarch and the patriarchal winter residence; Dimane, the patriarchal summer residence and former See of the Maronite Patriarch; Our Lady of Lebanon Sanctuary at Harissa. There are also a number of famous Maronite monasteries, like that of Qannubin, probably the oldest, which goes back to the fourth century. Perhaps most significant of these monasteries is the Monastery of Saint Anthony at Qozhaya; it includes the monastery proper, a number of hermitages, the Cave of St. Anthony (which is associated with a number of healing cures), and the Church of the Monastery of Saint Anthony, which is literally set into the mountain, being partly a cave.

Notable Religious Institutions: Lebanese Maronite Order (Baladites), Mariamite Maronite Order (Aleppians), Antonin Maronite Order.

Notable Saints: Maroun (February 9), John Maron (March 2), Rafqa (March 23), Charbel (July 24), James the Solitary (November 26), Nimatullah Kassab al-Hardini (December 14).

Extent of Official Jurisdiction: Ten eparchies (dioceses) and four vicariates in Lebanon itself, three eparchies in Syria, one eparchy in Israel, and nine eparchies throughout the world (Brooklyn, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Cypress, Los Angeles, Mexico, Montreal, Sao Paolo, Sydney). (Sphere of influence always extends beyond the official jurisdiction due to members of the church living outside any official jurisdiction of the church.)

Online Sources and Resources:

http://www.bkerkelb.org/

http://www.antonins.org/

http://maroniteinstitute.org/

http://maronite-heritage.com/

http://maronitemonks.org/wp/

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XXXVI

The path of God is a daily cross. No one has ascended into Heaven by means of ease, for we know where the way of ease leads, and how it ends. God never wishes the man who gives himself up to Him with his whole heart to be without concern (that is, concern over the truth). But from this he knows that he is under God's providence -- that He perpetually sends him griefs.

Homily 59 (p. 430).

Monday, March 30, 2015

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations Books VIII, IX, and X

Book VIII

Hadot notes that metamorphosis or change is a recurring idea in the book (The Inner Citadel, p. 270):

In Book VIII, the theme of universal metamorphosis takes on a very particular form. Here, Nature has the power to use the detritus which results from its vital activity to create new beings (VIII, 50). Since it has no space outside itself where it can throw this detritus, it transforms it within itself and makes it into its matter once again (VIII, 18). Intellectual or rational nature, for its part, transforms the obstacles that oppose its activity into a subject for exercises, which thereby permits it to attain its goal by using that which resists it (VIII, 7, 2; VIII, 32; VIII, 35; VIII, 41; VIII, 47; VIII, 54; VIII, 57).

On the basis of this universal changefulness, we should not be afraid of new things (VIII, 6); all things come and go on the basis of a law that is like divine law, so that even death is ordered (2, cp. 17). That a thing cease belongs as much to its nature as that it be born or continue to exist (20). When we deal with the world, we should deal with it as it really is, and one of the questions we should ask is how long it lasts (11). Even things we do not like -- bitterness in cucumbers and thorny bushes, for instance -- each comes and goes and becomes a way for new things to arise according to the order of the universe (50).

For our part, it is in our power to change ourselves or keep to our straight course (16). If things are in our power, we cannot blame either atoms or the gods, the only other causes involved; we either set ourselves right or set the situation right, and if we can do neither, it is absurd to complain (17). Since in this changeful universe, everything comes to be from a purpose, we should ask ourselves what the purpose of our coming to be was, and recognize that it could not possibly be pleasure (19). We can form a better picture by considering our natures:

A man's joy is to do what is specifically human, and it is specifically human to be gracious to his kind, to despise the activities of the senses, to judge aright the persuasive pictures of the imagination, to contemplate the nature of the Whole and all that happens in accord with it. (26)

In a rational creature we can see that there is a virtue that opposes pursuit of pleasure (39).

Two other choice comments:

"Accept without conceit, relinquish without reluctance." (33)

"Men are born for each other's sake. So either teach people or endure them." (59)

Book IX

One of the features of the ninth book is that, interspersed among its short reflections, it has several extended meditations (these longer meditations tend to come more thickly in the last few books of the work). It's worthwhile to get some sense of the basic idea of some of these.

At IX,1, we get a discussion of impiety. Injustice is impious because the Whole has made rational creatures for each other; wrongdoing is a transgression against the Whole as the oldest goddess. Lying is also impious, for the Whole is Truth herself, "the first cause of all that is true." There is a double wrongness here, since the liar wrongs others and is out of harmony with the Whole. Living one's life in pursuit of pleasure as good and in flight from pain as evil is also impious, because the Whole distributes pleasure and pain in accordance with the good of the Whole.

At IX, 3, the Emperor reflects on death. Death is one of the things intended by Nature, just as every other stage of life is, so we should not despise it, or regard it with exaggeration or arrogance. AS a way of encouraging himself to do this, he notes that death will not part him from people who have similar views from himself; at court he lives out of tune with everyone around himself.

At IX, 9, we find a discussion of community. Everything seeks its like, and this includes those things that are similar in having an intelligent nature. Even animals form communities of a sort, having "an increasing tendency to unity which does not exist in plants or stones or timber." Human beings, rational animals, have an even higher tendency to union; higher beings like the stars are even more united, so that "a rise in the scale of beings brings a common feeling even among those who are far apart." But intelligent beings can also forget that they have this urge -- they cannot get rid of it, because it still motivates them, but they resist it or even flee from it.

IX, 40 discusses prayer. If the gods have no power, it makes no sense to pray to them. If they do, why would we spend our praying on trivial things rather than asking for things like the ability to rise above our passions. If gods cooperate with human beings, they would surely do so by aiding us in this way. If, however, you were to say that these things are in our own power, then we should recognize it is just as absurd to spend our own power on the same trivial things rather than on rising above our passions; but in fact, on what ground would we conclude that the gods cannot help us even in matters in our power? "At any rate, start praying for these things, and you will see." Instead of praying for trivial or immoral things, pray for help in being moral, and see what happens. (We might call this Marcus Aurelius's Wager!)

IX, 42, the closing meditation in Book IX, concerns dealing with other people. If someone offends you through being shameless, ask yourself if there could be no shameless people at all; since there can't, you should stop demanding the impossible, because that is truly shameless. And similar arguments can be used across the board, for every kind of wrong. It is also good to develop the habit of asking, as a first reaction, what quality nature has given us to deal with this problem. If someone is offensively headstrong, for instance, we should consider that nature has given us gentleness for dealing with such people. Further, you should reflect that you have not really been injured, if you yourself do not use the occasion for becoming worse. Further, if it happens that you already knew that he was foolish, why did you expect him not to act foolishly? But most importantly, when you encounter these vices, you should take the opportunity to reflect on yourself, and what wrong you might have done -- perhaps you were imprudent in trusting the disloyal man, or did not benefit someone because it was a good thing to do, but only because you were trying to trade it for some trivial thing.

Other comments of note:

"The sinner sins against himself; the wrongdoer wrongs himself by making himself evil." (4)

"One may often do wrong by omitting to do something, not only by doing something." (5)

"Today I left the troubles surrounding me, or rather, I cast them out. For they were not outside but within me, in my assumptions." (13)

"The wrong done by another you must leave with him." (20)


Book X

Hadot notes (The Inner Citadel, p. 297) that there is a recurrent theme of seeing people realistically in this book. In addition, we get something of an emphasis on simplicity and goodness. It opens with Marcus interrogating himself about when he will become simple and good (IX, 1), an interrogation that is repeated later in different terms (9). In an extended meditation, he recommends to himself that he focus on the few key virtues, and that if he begins to lose them he should either retire into seclusion to focus on them or depart life in simplicity rather than anger (8). Since time is short, we should live as if we were on a mountain (15). We should see to it that nobody can say anything of us except that we are simple and good (32).

to be continued

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XXXV

A small affliction borne for God's sake is better before God than a great work performed without tribulation; for affliction willingly borne brings to light the proof of love, but a work of leisure proceeds from a self-satisfied conscience.

Homily 36 (p. 286).

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Fortnightly Book, March 29

I was so busy last week I barely got through The Mabinogion, despite its being a re-read, so I'm trying something a little lighter this time around, as well as re-reading rather than starting something completely new. I will, however, be doing two books that go well together: Sackett and The Sackett Brand, by Louis L'Amour. Louis L'Amour, born in North Dakota as Louis Dearborn LaMoore, is perhaps the most popular writer of Westerns of all time. He was also very prolific, with around a hundred novels and more than two hundred short stories to his career.

Arguably his most popular works are his Sackett novels, which tell the story of the Sackett family, originating out of East Anglia and spreading through the American frontier. That series has the following books (as well as a number of short stories, and Sacketts playing minor roles in other books); they are listed in rough narrative order, with the publication dates in parentheses:

(1) Sackett's Land (1974)
(2) To the Far Blue Mountains (1976)
(3) The Warrior's Path (1980)
(4) Jubal Sackett (1985)
(5) Ride the River (1983)
(6) The Daybreakers (1960)
(7) Lando (1962)
(8) Sackett (1961)
(9) Mojave Crossing (1964)
(10) The Sackett Brand (1965)
(11) The Sky-Liners (1967)
(12) The Lonely Men (1969)
(13) Mustang Man (1966)
(14) Galloway (1970)
(15) Treasure Mountain (1973)
(16) Ride the Dark Trail (1972)
(17) Lonely on the Mountain (1980)

Sackett and The Sackett Brand tell part of the story of William Tell Sackett, better known as Tell, and his love and loss. And, as with all the Sackett books, and very many Westerns, the theme is simple and straightforward: civilization begins with family.

Teresa of Avila

A number of people have noted that yesterday was the 500th anniversary of the birth of Teresa of Ávila. She was born March 28, 1515 in Ávila, in Castile, as Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada. From the beginning of her Life:

I had a father and mother, who were devout and feared God. Our Lord also helped me with His grace. All this would have been enough to make me good, if I had not been so wicked. My father was very much given to the reading of good books; and so he had them in Spanish, that his children might read them. These books, with my mother's carefulness to make us say our prayers, and to bring us up devout to our Lady and to certain Saints, began to make me think seriously when I was, I believe, six or seven years old. It helped me, too, that I never saw my father and mother respect anything but goodness. They were very good themselves. My father was a man of great charity towards the poor, and compassion for the sick, and also for servants; so much so, that he never could be persuaded to keep slaves, for he pitied them so much: and a slave belonging to one of his brothers being once in his house, was treated by him with as much tenderness as his own children. He used to say that he could not endure the pain of seeing that she was not free. He was a man of great truthfulness; nobody ever heard him swear or speak ill of any one; his life was most pure.

My mother also was a woman of great goodness, and her life was spent in great infirmities. She was singularly pure in all her ways. Though possessing great beauty, yet was it never known that she gave reason to suspect that she made any account whatever of it; for, though she was only three-and-thirty years of age when she died, her apparel was already that of a woman advanced in years. She was very calm, and had great sense. The sufferings she went through during her life were grievous, her death most Christian.

Some Spanish news footage of her declaration as Doctor of the Church in 1970:



And some music for the occasion, by folk country legend Nanci Griffith:



Nanci Griffith, "Saint Teresa of Avila".

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Mabinogion

Introduction

Opening Passage: From Pwyll Prince of Dyved

Pwyll Prince of Dyved was lord of the seven Cantrevs of Dyved; and once upon a time he was at Narberth his chief palace, and he was minded to go and hunt, and the part of his dominions in which it pleased him to hunt was Glyn Cuch. So he set forth from Narbeth that night, and went as far as Llwyn Diarwyd. And that night he tarried there, and early on the morrow he rose and came to Glyn Cuch, when he let loose the dogs in the wood, and sounded the horn, and began the chase. And as he followed the dogs, he lost his companions; and whilst he listened to the hounds, he heard the cry of other hounds, a cry different from his own, and coming in the opposite direction.

Summary: The Mabinogion is a very diverse set of stories, but there are connecting links: Pryderi threads through the stories of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi; Manawyddan ap Llyr, Taliesin, Geraint ap Erbin, and Pryderi are mentioned in Kilhwch and Olwen; King Arthur is a character in five of the tales. Perhaps more important than even these obvious threads is the pervasive atmosphere of the Welsh fantastic. Practically every maiden is the fairest one has ever seen. There are continual casual mentions of extraordinary deeds that no doubt had their own legend cycles once, as when we are told, without fanfare and without explanation that certain knights of King Arthur "came forth from the confines of hell" or that Gwrhyr Gwastawd Ieithoedd was the same one who knew all languages or that Ellylw the daughter of Neol Kynn-Crog is the one who lived for three ages. There is also that curious feature of Welsh fantasy, what might be called the practical impossible, as when we learn that Kai has the curious feature that nothing he carries in his hands will ever get wet from rain, or the usefulness of Caswallawn's veil of illusion.


The tales in brief:

Pwyll Prince of Dyved: Pwyll makes friends with Arawn, one of the kings of the underworld, and marries Rhiannon, with whom he has Pryderi, who only gets his name with some difficulty.

Branwen the Daughter of Llyr: Tensions arise between Ireland and Britain, the latter of which is under the rule of Blessed Bran, after the Irish king tries to build an alliance by marrying Bran's sister, Branwen. She is mistreated, and Bran invades. The British beat the Irish, but only at terrible cost. Bran's giant head is buried in London to stave off invasion.

Manawyddan the Son of Llyr: Manawyddan and Pryderi find themselves in a curious situation when a magic mist descends and everyone but themselves, even including the domesticated animals, vanishes. Pryderi solves the problem by threatening to hang a mouse.

Math the Son of Mathonwy: Gwydion and his brothers, who are nephews of Math steals the pigs of the underworld from Pryderi, leading to Pryderi's death. Math revenges Pryderi by turning his nephews into animals. Arianrhod gives birth in a rather peculiar way to Llew Llaw Gyffes, who also only gets his name with some difficulty. Since Arianrhod has placed a geis on Llew that he will never have a human wife, Gwydion and Math make Llew a wife out of flowers, Blodeuwedd; she is as shallow as you would expect a woman made from flowers to be, and she has an affair, which causes all sorts of problems for Llew.

The Dream of Maxen Wledig: Maxen Wledig, Roman Emperor, has a dream of a lovely maiden and sends his men to find her.

Lludd and Llevelys: Lludd, king of Britain has a few problems; he is invaded by people who can hear anything spoken on the wind, a terrifying scream ravages the country every May Day, and all the provisions for his court keep disappearing. He asks his brother Llevelys, king of France, for help using a brass tube, and they destroy the invaders with an insect potion, discover that the scream is actually a pair of dragons and get those dragons drunk, and then figure out that the provisions are all being stolen by a magician.

Kilhwch and Olwen: Kilhwch is in love with Olwen, daughter of a giant, despite the fact that he has never seen her. He gets help from his cousin, King Arthur, and they discover that the giant will let Kilhwch marry his daughter if Kilhwch and Arthur's knights do forty impossible tasks. So they do them, and Kilhwch marries Olwen.

The Dream of Rhonabwy: In a dream, Rhonabwy travels back in time to the court of King Arthur, who is obsessed with playing chess with Owain. This is the most bafflingly fantastic of all the tales in The Mabinogion, often reaching the point of being surreal.

The Lady of the Fountain: Owain marries the Lady of the Fountain, but loses her because he is married to his job. He gets her back with the help of a lion, though.

Peredur the Son of Evrawc: Peredur, a country bumpkin, turns out to be very much better at being a knight than most knights. One of his uncles has a man's severed head, who turns out to be Peredur's cousin, killed by the Nine Witches of Gloucester. Peredur avenges his cousin.

Geraint the Son of Erbin: Geraint marries Enid, and enjoys it so much he stops acting like a knight; Enid bemoans this fact while Geraint is sleeping, but he overhears her and assumes she is having an affair. So he goes out and fights a lot of people while taking her along and repeatedly telling her not to talk to him, until they finally make up.

Taliesin: Gwion Bach gains extraordinary wisdom from Ceridwen's cauldron; he runs away, but Ceridwen chases him. Eventually Gwion Bach turns himself into a piece of grain and Ceridwen becomes a hen and eats him. She gives birth to a boy, whom she puts in a bag and throws into the sea. He is discovered by a fisherman, Elphin, who calls him Taliesin. They have a number of adventures together as Taliesin shows himself to be the greatest bard of all time.

Favorite Passage: From Geraint the Son of Erbin:

Thereupon she raised a loud and piercing shriek, and her lamentations were much greater than they had been before, for she considered in her mind that had Geraint been alive, he durst not have struck her thus. But, behold, at the sound of her cry, Geraint revived from his swoon, and he sat up on the bier, and finding his sword in the hollow of his shield, he rushed to the place where the Earl was, and struck him a fiercely-wounding, severely-venomous, and sternly-smiting blow upon the crown of his head, so that he clove him in twain, until his sword was stayed by the table. Then all left the board, and fled away. And this was not so much through fear of the living as through the dread they felt at seeing the dead man rise up to slay them. And Geraint looked upon Enid, and he was grieved for two causes; one was, to see that Enid had lost her colour and her wonted aspect, and the other, to know that she was in the right.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XXXIV

No man can conquer the passions except by the palpable virtues; and no man can conquer the wandering of the mind except by the study of spiritual knowledge. Our mind is light and swift, and if it is not tied down by some reflection, it never stops wandering. Without attaining perfection in the aforesaid virtues, a man cannot acquire this safeguard. For if a man does not vanquish his enemies, he cannot be at peace.

Homily 34 (p. 283).

Friday, March 27, 2015

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XXXIII

Beware of the freedom that precedes an evil slavery. Beware of the consolation that precedes warfare. Beware of the knowledge that is acquired before an encounter with temptations; but especially beware of the ardent love that is prior to the completion of repentance. If we are all sinners and no man is superior to the temptations of sin, it is certainly true that no virtue is more pre-eminent than repentance. For a man can never complete the work of repentance. It is always suitable for every sinner and righteous man who wishes to gain salvation. There is no limit to perfection, for even the perfection of the perfect is truly without completion. And for this very reason, repentance is bounded neither by periods of time nor by works until a man's death.

Homily 32.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sui Juris Churches I: The Italo-Albanian Catholic Church

In doing the previous post on sui juris churches in the Catholic Church, I realized that, despite a longstanding interest in them, I'd never really done anything organized or systematic about that interest. So I thought it would be interesting to do an occasional series on the 24 sui juris churches; some of them I know a fair amount about and some of them very little, but they are all worth knowing a bit about -- a lot of the history of the Church is bound up in them. So I start out with a small but very distinctive church with an interesting history: the Italo-Albanian Greek Catholic Church.

Liturgical Family: Byzantine

Primary Liturgical Languages: Albanian and Greek

Juridical Status: Eparchial (directly subject to the Pope)

Approximate Population (Rounded to Nearest 10,000): 60,000

Basic History: The way to think about Italo-Albanian Catholics is to recognize that they are the Eastern Catholics of Italy. We tend to associate Italy with Western Catholicism because of Rome; but in fact Italy has been a notable bastion of Byzantine Rite Christianity since very early days. For much of its history, Northern Italy was 'western' and Southern Italy was 'eastern'. Southern Italy and Sicily had been Greek-speaking for centuries before any church came to them; they are littered with what were originally Greek colonies. Thus Christians in these areas tended to speak Greek, have liturgies in Greek, and in general to have lots in common with Greek-speakers generally. Because they were on the peninsula, their patriarch was the Bishop of Rome, the Pope; but they did things the Greek way.

In the eighth century this amicable understanding was broken from the outside due to a major crisis in the Church: the Iconoclasm Controversy. The Popes were all opponents of the iconoclastic movement, but the Emperors, in Constantinople, were often themselves iconoclasts. One of the strongest of the Iconoclast Emperors was Leo III the Isaurian, who had seized Constantinople from his predecessor, whose abdication he forced, and then scored some important victories repulsing the invading Umayyad caliphate. This then gave him time to engage in a number of major administrative reforms, and, unfortunately, one of his reforms was to ban the veneration of images. Revolts broke out. St. Germanus I, the Patriarch of Constantinople, refused to cooperate and (depending on the story) was deposed or resigned. He was replaced by Anastasius in 730, who was against, then for, then against icons. In Italy the same refusal manifested itself: Popes Gregory II and Gregory III refused to cooperate with the imperial edict. Pope Gregory II's opposition led to rebellion against the Imperial government in Italy. After Gregory II's death, Gregory III, who was himself an Easterner from Syria, continued the opposition with a will. In retaliation, Leo seized control of Sicily and Calabria (Calabria is Italy's 'toe'), and by military force transferred authority over much of Southern Italy from the Pope to the Patriarch of Constantinople. This would have the result of massively strengthening the Greek and Byzantine character of Christianity in Southern Italy, which continued even as authority slowly slipped back to the Pope and iconoclasm lost ground.

A new external force enters into the picture: the Normans. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the Normans began invading Southern Italy, eventually -- but only eventually -- uniting them into the Kingdom of Sicily. As they advanced, they did what they often did: as bishops died or went into exile for this or that reason, they slowly replaced the bishops of the area with bishops more favorable to them. The Greek-speaking bishops were slowly replaced by Latin-speaking ones. The Byzantine Rite in Italy never completely died; there still seems to have been scattered pockets of it several centuries later.

After the Council of Florence, the great Bessarion attempted to revive the dwindling community. But what really revived the Byzantine Rite in Italy was immigration, and again an external factor intervened. The Turks invaded Albania, and many Albanians fled the Turkish advance. Northern Albanians were Latin Rite; but Southern Albanians tended to be Byzantine Rite. Over the years, there were several notable Albanian influxes. Most of these Albanians were what we would think of Eastern Orthodox rather than Catholic, but (1) many of them came shortly after the Council of Florence in 1439, during the brief period in which it was in many places thought that Catholics and Orthodox had been conclusively reunited; and (2) Constaninople fell to the Turks in 1453, which massively reduced the influence of the Patriarch of Constantinople. Thus the Albanians in Italy had Byzantine Rite churches in communion with, and under the jurisdiction of, Rome.

In the wake of the Council of Trent, as the Counter-Reformation picked up steam, the Byzantine Rite communities in Italy began to have increasing difficulties -- they were often looked at with suspicion, and Rome tended to prefer to strengthen Latin Rite influence over these Byzantine Rite communities. Again the Byzantine Rite in Italy began to dwindle. A reversal began, however, under the great Pope Benedict XIV, in the eighteenth century, and the popes of the nineteenth century (most notably Leo XIII) supported the Byzantine Rite communities to an even greater extent. The recognition of the Italo-Albanian Catholic Church as sui juris began in the twentieth century with the recognition of official eparchies (dioceses) devoted specifically to Byzantine Rite Catholics in Italy.

Notable Monuments: The Monastery of Santa Maria di Grottaferrata near Rome, founded by St. Nilus the Younger in the eleventh century and confirmed in the Byzantine Rite by Leo XIII in the nineteenth.

Notable Religious Institutes: Order of Grottaferrata (Basilian monks); Figlie di Santa Macrina (Basilian sisters).

Notable Saints: St. Nilus the Younger (September 26).

Extent of Official Jurisdiction: Eparchy of Lungro (mainland Italy), Eparchy of Piana degli Albanesi (Sicily), Territorial Abbacy of Santa Maria di Grottaferrata. (Sphere of influence always extends beyond the official jurisdiction due to members of the church living outside of any official jurisdiction of the church. In this case, one can find scattered Italo-Albanian liturgies elsewhere, although only under the patronage of bishops of other particular churches.)

Online Sources and Resources:

http://www.katolsk.no/


http://www.freerepublic.com/

http://www.cnewa.org/

http://www.eparchiapiana.it/

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XXXII

Although the Lord is always near the saints helping them, He does not manifestly show His power by some work and visible sign without need, lest the help we receive should be made ineffectual and turned to our injury. Thus does the Lord act when He provides for His saints, though indeed His hidden care is not absent from them even for a moment. In all things, however, he leaves them to exhibit a struggle and to labor in prayer in accord with their strength.

But if they encounter something that is so difficult as to overcome the degree of their knowledge, and they grow weak and fall short of it because their nature is not sufficient for the task, then He accomplishes it Himself, according to the greatness of His dominion, and according to what is profitable for them....

Homily 60