Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Augustine: The Decline of the Roman Empire

Hi all you Augustinians out there! I thought I would write a brief post regarding a film that is being pushed around, called "Restless Heart" by Ignatius Press. It's a film about St. Augustine, which was directed by Christian Duguay, a Canadian director, who filmed the television movie, "Augustine: The Decline of the Roman Empire", for Italian television. It was filmed as a two part mini series and has been released with English and Spanish dub. The film was filmed in Tunisia, near Hippo-Regius, or so I read.

It's a great film. And I highly recommend it. It dramatizes some aspects of St. Augustine's life and stays pretty faithful to the autobiographical and historical information that we have, though perhaps there is some element of creativity. I'll try and write a full review of the film as I watch it again through Youtube.

Why did St. Augustine write the Confessions and what does it tell us about him?

The intention of this article herein is to explore St. Augustine's purpose, motive, and desires in writing the thirteen books of his famous Confessions. Why write about his own life, his own sins, his own coming to grace, and what sort of a message is St. Augustine trying to make in his thirteen books? I will strive to explore what the events were in St. Augustine's life that might have spurred him on to write his Confessions, possible motives for why St. Augustine might have written this book, what sort of a book the Confessions is, and what the contents of St. Augustine's Confessions can tell us about him. The other half of this article will discuss another viewpoint on the Confessions and strive to look closely to what place Confessions has in Christian literature and in Christian piety.

What was St. Augustine doing when he was writing his Confessions
I’m writing this article as an exploration of St. Augustine’s possible motives for writing the spiritual classic, The Confessions in Thirteen Books, or more simply the Confessions. Confessions was begun around 397 AD and published near 401 AD, so about one or two years after St. Augustine had become a bishop, taking Valerius’ place as the bishop of Hippo. The article itself will cover what St. Augustine intended when he wrote the Confessions, what it meant in the context of his world and ministry as a bishop, where else we might find a prototype for the kind of work that he completed in the spiritual classic, what the book can teach us about St. Augustine and about the spiritual life, and finally a half of the document will go to answering some negative comments made by an Eastern Orthodox priest regarding St. Augustine's Confessions and its legacy in Western Christendom.

So to begin with I would like to provide more background to St. Augustine's Confessions by noting some of the works that St. Augustine was up to during the period between 397 AD and 401 AD when the work was being written, I will list them below. This list will helps set down what sort of works and interests St. Augustine had in mind before he began writing the Confessions.

Monday, August 27, 2012

First Grade Catechism for Adults 1.01.04: Creation shows God’s love to us

The Andes Mountains

All around us are countless mysteries in the world and many of them can, when we reflect on them in quiet show the beauty and mystery of God. Take for example, water. It’s a simple thing that we have all around us. Here in Chicago we’re blessed with Lake Michigan which provides much of our drinking supply. But liquid water in this solar system is exceedingly rare, and very rare indeed anywhere else in the universe. God has given us a miracle, the miracle of having nearly three quarters of the planet covered in liquid water from which we could live and thrive on. Even more spectacular and unlikely is it how everything in the universe was able to come together to become what it is today so that we could live and come to know God. There ought to be a wonder and awe about us when we consider all that God has made and put before us, even the smallest things like a pebble or an ant crawling on the ground can evoke in us some awe in how small it is and yet how incomprehensible it is to us in its essence. We can see the rock and measure the rock and know many things about the rock but isn’t there something about the rock that stands apart from us, something that perhaps calls us to reflect on the deeper mystery of the rock’s existence. Perhaps this is getting to philosophical, but the point is that God’s creation is full of mystery and we should be full of awe about it.

First Grade Catechism for Adults 1.01.03: God loved me from the foundation of the world

Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles
at the Last Supper.

In St. Paul’s letter to St. Timothy, St. Paul writes that it is pleasing to God that we pray for everybody and that “3[this] is good and pleasing to God our savior, 4 who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4)1. It is important to know that God loves every single creature that He has created, and He loves men and women, boys and girls, so much that He sent us His only begotten Son into the world to save us from our sins and that whoever lived faithfully by Him would have eternal life2. All of God’s plan for us is sometimes called the history or the plan of salvation. The Lord made us to share in his divine life, that is to be with Him in Heaven and share in the mystery of love between His own self and us. St. Peter in his second letter writes, “Through these, He has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature, after escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire.” (2nd Peter 1:4) He writes that God has given us many promises and blessings so as to approach Him and come to even share in God’s mysterious divine nature.

First Grade Catechism for Adults 1.01.02: God made mankind in His image

"The image of the invisible God"
Colossians 1:15
God tells us in Genesis 1:26, “Let Us make human beings in our image, after Our likeness.”1 But we need to ask ourselves what does it mean to be made in the likeness and image of God? Usually when we talk about somebody being the image of somebody else we mean to say that they look like them. For example, a father might tell his wife that their newborn baby boy is the near perfect image of his wife or of himself. However, when we talk about people’s likeness to God we don’t mean to say that in the beginning when God made Adam and Eve that He made them so that they look like what He looks like. This is part of the reason why the Israelites were forbidden from making an image of God, and this is because nobody knew what God looked like, and so God wanted to protect them from confusing Him with images of Him which could never really reflect who He is. Isaiah asks in Isaiah 40: 18-19 who can make an image that looks like God and if anybody could it would not be God, or even look like him. And so we must identify what it means that God made us in His image.

First Grade Catechism for Adults 1.01.01: God is the Creator who made all things good

The Nicene Creed begins with “I believe in God” and as the Catechism of the Catholic Church1 says this is the most fundamental part of the Apostles’ Creed. (CCC 199). “The whole Creed speaks of God, and when it also speaks of man and of the world it does so in relation to God.” (CCC 199) All of the articles of our faith depend on God, and so when we reflect on the teachings of the Catholic Church they all must fall fundamentally upon faith in God, and not simply any god, but the one God who Is and who has revealed Himself as the one true God.

God’s Divine Name helps us understand His relationship to Creation
It is this God who we believe created the entire universe and the entire world. The immensity of God’s majesty is beyond what anybody can comprehend, and yet the Lord revealed His name to His people, specifically to Moses, at Mount Sinai:

Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you’, and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I Am has sent me to you’…this is my name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.” (Exodus 3:13-15)

Teaching the faith, in honor of St. Monica

I'm about to post some posts for a Catholic Catechism class at my local parish for first grade. The articles are not the work of the Catholic Church nor the parish and only reflect my personal views on the things that the Archdiocese of Chicago expects first graders to know. They are intended to be read by adults hoping to have a basis or scheme to teach their children about the Catholic faith.

May St. Monica who's feast is today teach us how to impress on our own children's hearts a seed of faith, hope, and love. We also pray that through her intercession that Christ brings us all closer to Him through a constant and inward conversion and confession of faith.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Letter 54: St. Augustine’s Reply to the Inquiries of Januarius (Book 1 of 2)

Franco Nero as St. Augustine
in Augustine: The Decline of
the Roman Empire by Christian
This letter comes from St. Augustine’s fifth or sixth year of being a bishop in Hippo and it is written to a certain Januarius who is asking about how it is that a faithful Christian ought to fast before receiving the Eucharist. St. Augustine replies in two books, the first one significantly smaller than the last one, and these are recorded as letters 54 and 55. Letters 54 and 55 were written around 400 AD, and seem to not only be replying to Januarius’ questions but also partially a response to another writer whose writings disturbed Januarius. The first book will comment on the Eucharistic fast and its purpose, as well as an outline of God’s plan of salvation for all those in the Church. I hope that it will be an enlightening look into St. Augustine’s conception of the sacraments (Divine mysteries), and of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Monday, August 13, 2012

José Pereira and Robert Fastiggi on Augustinian Spirituality during the Catholic Reformation, Part 2 of 2

Baroque Augustinian Fray. Luis de León
The last post concerned the writings of José Pereira and Robert Fastiggi on Augustinian spirituality during the Catholic Reformation. This post concerns a part of their writings where St. Augustine posits the degrees of the spiritual life, which is numbered at seven grades of progress, and are closely linked to the Beatitudes (which are eight though apparently two are grouped together to make seven main points). I am cautious about what is contained in this reading of St. Augustine's work since I've not yet read St. Augustine's sermons on the Sermon on the Mount, nor am I too familiar with St. Augustine's writings on spiritual progress. All the less however, I will post this forward in an attempt to bring a scholarly (and costly) work to the public. The work again is The Mystical Theology of the Catholic Reformation. Which is about $48 on Amazon.

José Pereira and Robert Fastiggi on Augustinian Spirituality during the Catholic Reformation, Part 1 of 2

Luis de León, a Baroque Augustinian theologian
This excerpt comes from Pereira and Fastiggi's book "The Mystical Theology of the Catholic Reformation: An Overview of Baroque Spirituality" published in 2006. The book is quite fascinating though it is a light read for a scholarly book, and from what it looks like it is a partial view into the mystical theology of the Catholic Reformation. There are quite a number of long lists of authors and their lives throughout the book which is a bit off-putting if you want to dive directly into the theme of the book, and even then the book seems a bit generic at times, though with sure nuggets of many Baroque authors' views on Catholic spirituality. The book covers an overview of Baroque thought first, including Baroque Scholasticism, Baroque modernity, Baroque Positive Theology, and Baroque Sacred Oratory. Following these sections are chapters that actually deal with the title's topic, spirituality. They include a chapter titled, "Unfolding of Baroque Spirituality", then followed by the Spirituality of the Monastic Orders (Benedictine, Cistercian, Carthusian), Spirituality of the Mendicant Friars (Franciscan, Dominican), Spirituality of the clerics Regular (Augustinian, Theatine, Barnabite), Spirituality of the Major Orders of the Baroque age (Jesuit, Oratorian), and the final sections deal with Carmelite Spirituality (Calced Carmelite, Discalced Carmelite, St. Teresa of Ávila, St. John of the Cross).

Saturday, August 11, 2012

I Am the Living Bread which has come down from Heaven. A brief commentary on this Sunday's Readings

This Sunday’s readings in the Ordinary Form Catholic mass will be:

6th century icon of Christ
from St. Catherine Monastery
at Mount Sinai*
1 Kings 19:4-8
Psalm 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Ephesians 4:30- 5:2
John 6:41-51

Below I only hope to offer a small reflection on such a great amount of Our Lord’s word’s to us. I am very new to reading Scripture, and so most of my focus will be on reading the New Testament works in the context of the Psalms and then perhaps the Old Testament works. A Christian who is deep in his faith would understand these texts far better than I do. I hope to look somewhat to the Patristic texts as well to get a view of the Church’s faith regarding the Sacred Mystery of Jesus the Living Bread from Heaven.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

St. Augustine’s Sermon 63, wake up Christ in your heart

Rembrandt painting of Jesus calming the storm

Among one of St. Augustine’s shortest sermons, Sermon 63 is not a sermon that we know when it was composed. There are multiple sermons that exist from St. Augustine’s preaching on the story of Matthew 8 where the Apostles go with Christ in a boat only to have a storm brew up, wherein they wake up Jesus who calms the storm and chastises them for their lack of faith. Being among the shortest of St. Augustine’s sermons it is entirely possible that this is a later sermon of St. Augustine’s which had a tendency to be much shorter than his earlier sermons. Just as well if this sermon is a repeated lesson on earlier sermons it is likely that his parish already knew what he was going to say about Matthew 8, and so there was no need to say more. In any regard, let us listen to the Doctore Caritatis (Doctor of Charity).

Monday, August 6, 2012

“And Jesus Took with Him” a Carthusian reflection on the prayer of Jesus in the Transfiguration

Icon of the Transfiguration at St. Catherine Monastery
at Mt. Sinai. It is an apse mosaic commissioned in the
6th century by Emperor Justinian the Great.

This essay is for a reflection on today’s feast, the feast of the Transfiguration, in which Jesus took up with Him Sts. Peter, James, and John up to Mount Tabor to pray. This is a great feast and is the moment in which Jesus showed forth His divinity to His disciples as well as making Moses and Elijah spring forth to see Him. The theme of this essay concerns less regarding the Transfiguration itself but Christ’s model of prayer in bringing His disciples with Him to pray and embrace His divinity. There is much mystery to the Transfiguration, and much of our own life is played out in the hope that we will see Jesus in His divinity and that that Light which shined forth from Him in all holiness might shine upon our souls and make us holy.

Jesus took with Him Peter, James, and John and climbed the mountain to pray. (Luke 9:28)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

St. Thomas of Aquinas on God’s Omnipotence (Summa Theologiae Part 1 Question 25 Article 3)

St. Thomas of Aquinas
This article regards St. Thomas of Aquinas the Common view of the way in which we can think of God as being omnipotent, that is, all-powerful. There is much thought in modern days especially amongst those who do not hold the Faith that God’s omnipotence is incomprehensibly great or that God cannot possibly be omnipotent. This article here is intended as both a means to illuminate our faith and as a way to better comprehend the outstanding quality of God’s greatness. This is not a scholarly article, one ought to note, and so the inaccuracies to be found in my analysis of highly technical scholastic philosophy and theology are on account of my own inability to read the saint’s work. For those unaware of who St. Thomas of Aquinas is, I note that he is one of the most celebrated saints of the Catholic Church in regards to his teachings on theology and philosophy. His Summa Theologiae is the Doctor of the Church’s compendium of topics of theology and philosophy for theology students at the university he taught at. The life of St. Thomas of Aquinas is quite interesting and one can read more about it here. All in all then, let us learn from the saint and may God enlighten us to learn more about Him through His holy saints!

Bl. John Duns Scotus on God’s Omnipotence (Oxford Lectures on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, Book I Distinction 42-43)

Bl. John Duns Scotus

This article is a part of a series of medieval scholastic theology regarding the topic of God’s omnipotence. This isn’t intended as a scholarly article but only a layman’s opinion and reading of a very small snippet of a holy man’s complex labyrinth of thought and devotion. It is very likely that I will make mistakes regarding the interpretation of the Subtle Doctor’s theology, but hopefully God will make an opportunity of this article to help us better know Him in our hearts and in our minds.

Now in this regard Bl. John Duns Scotus’ remarks on the power of God’s omnipotence comes from some of his lectures at Oxford regarding the Sentences in Four Books by Peter Lombard, an early Catholic who strove to assemble authorities and arguments for various doctrines of the Faith. Commenting and lecturing on the Sentences was mandatory for any person to become a doctor in theology or philosophy, etc. And so these Oxford Lectures, as I understand it are some of Bl. Scotus’ earlier work on these theological and philosophical issues, though I think it rivals St. Thomas of Aquinas’ later work in the matter of philosophical distinctions. To be fair however, Bl. Scotus was some time after St. Thomas and the universities were likely to have increased in rigor, and understanding of Aristotle and other key philosophical texts.

Here is the link by the way to the Oxford Commentary on Distinction 42 and 43.