Category Archives: History

When Conscience and Culture, Governments and Faith Clash

The Catholic Church in the United States has engaged in a rigorous debate this past year over religious freedom and just law. But this is not an unique struggle in the world. This past month marks the 477th anniversary of the execution of Cardinal St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More by King Henry VIII who demanded the clergy cut ties with Rome and declare the King the Supreme Head of the Church. Look to these two saints in these tough times and be inspired by their courage.

Cardinal Fisher and Sir Thomas More, martyrs for the faith

Flowered then Devoured Saint Thomas More saw the danger in allowing laws to change for the sake of reflecting culture’s demands. He used a parable about 1st century Roman Emperor  Tiberius to highlight what can happen when men try to compromise their conscience with culture. The emperor announced a law condemning any citizen to death for a certain offense unless the offender was a virgin. When the emperor came across a virgin, he was unsure what to do. So he had her violated in order that she may be put to death. “First let her be deflowered, and then after she may be deflowered”  (full text found here). He went on to assure them that he would not be deflowered, implying that those who do submit to the King’s will are subject to be devoured. Sir Thomas More was executed after being found guilty of treason; nevertheless, many of the King’s servants and advisers who had supported his supremacy over the Church later fell out of the king’s graces and were executed.

The following clip from The Tudors is of Saint Thomas More’s execution. Their interpretation of this particular moment in history is likely accurate.

Cardinal Saint John Fisher, in a similar way that St Thomas More did, questioned the authority of Parliament to declare Divine matters. As a bishop, he vigorously opposed corruption in the Catholic Church but declared that Martin Luther’s abandonment of the sacraments and break from the See of St. Peter was wrong. He was also Katherine of Aragon’s sole counselor when the Ecclesiastical Court investigated whether or not her marriage to King Henry VIII should be dissolved or not.  Like his patron, Saint John the Baptist, he was beheaded for challenging his ruler’s marriage to a taken woman. This similarity created a lot of attention in favor of Fisher. He is both a reformer of the Church and a martyr.

The brave and courageous actions of More and Fisher were certainly not in vain. Centuries later, there is a new Ordinariate (Similar to a Diocese) of the Catholic Church, allowing for Anglicans to return in full communion with the Catholic Church without forcing them to abandon many of their traditions. Over time, many faithful in England and elsewhere who adhere to the Anglican traditions have come to recognize that the break from the Rock in which Jesus built His Church is political and not Divine.

A.M.D.G.

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Virtual Tour of Christian of Rome (Part 2)

Non potest civitas abscondi supra montem posita(A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden -Matt 5:14)

  1. Palace and Archbasilica di San Giovanni in Laterano- 317AD, Constantine I legalizes Christianity and gives this palace to Pope St. Miltiades. This church remains the cathedral of the Pope and the spiritual head of the church today.
  2. Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore- Popes return to Rome in 1417, temporarily reside here. St Jerome is buried here.
  3. Quirinial Palace- Housed 30 popes from 15th century to 19th century when Italy was unified.
  4. Basilica of St Peter- Pope Pius IX holds first Vatican Council and moves into the Vatican Apostolic Palace in 1870.

Stop One: Imagine Constantine preparing to face an army twice his militia’s size. He sees a vision which tells him, “In this sign, you will conquer.”  Constantine marks the helmets of each of his soldiers with the Chi Rho(P and X) which mark the first two letters of Christ in Greek. Constantine wins, and in thanksgiving, he issues the Edict of Milan in 313AD which ends the persecution of Christians. The Christians are now able to come above ground and worship.

Constantine then takes the Lateran Palace and gives it to Pope St. Miltiades who was the Pope at the time. He then orders the construction of the Cathedral which has served as the Pope’s cathedral to this day(The Vatican is not the Pope’s Cathedral). The full title of this Cathedral which was consecrated circa 324AD is:

Archibasilica Sanctissimi Salvatoris et Sanctorum Iohannes Baptistae et Evangelistae in Laterano
Omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput

Papal Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior and Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist at the Lateran

There is actually no “Saint John Lateran”, rather it refers to the location of the Cathedral which is adjacent to the Lateran Palace. This has been the location of five Ecumenical councils, all named “Lateran Council I, II, II, etc.”

Stop Two: Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore

In 1376, when the Avignon Papacy ended and the Pope returned to Rome, they found the Lateran Palace in a deteriorated state. St. Mary Major became the new papal church. Although it falls outside Vatican City, it is a territory of the Vatican and not the Republic of Italy. This church holds a few special relics of our Catholic identity. St. Mary Major holds a relic of the holy crib of the baby Jesus and is also the resting place of St. Jerome who translated the Bible into Latin.

Stop Three: Quirinal Palace

Pope Gregory XIII wanted a Summer residence to escape the poor sanitary conditions caused by living in close proximity to the river. So he ordered construction to start in 1573 of a new papal palace. Several papal conclaves took place here including the election of: Leo XII, Pius VIII, and Gregory XVI. It is now the office of the President of the Republic of Italy. It is also the official residence of the President; however, Georgio Napolitano prefers to live in his own home and commute here to work daily.

Step Four: St. Peter’s Basilica

Located in the independent nation of Vatican City, St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest church in the world. It was originally built much smaller by Constantine on this location because it is where St. Peter was buried when he died circa 64AD. The Vatican is also the central governing location of the universal Catholic Church and since 1870, has been the residence of the Pope.

A lot has happened in these four locations, for better and for worse. There have been good times and bad times for the Church, but the true charitable glory of  Christ’s Church cannot be hidden by any man. Each of these locations holds a permanent piece of our history and Catholic identity.

A.M.D.G.

Virtual Tour of Christian of Rome (Part 1, Stops 1-3)

Beati, qui persecutionem patiuntur propter iustitiam (Blessed are those who endure persecution for the sake of justice Matt 5:11)

  1. Colosseum, Forum Romanum – Persecution of Christians circa 45AD-317AD
  2. Chiesa Domine Quo Vadis (Church of “Where are you going, Lord). Where Jesus appeared to Peter in 64AD.
  3. San Pietro ad Vincoli, church that holds the chains of St. Peter from when he was in jail

Colosseum

This ancient stadium is now blackened by the exhaust of cars.

This site is in close proximity to the ancient Roman Forum. The Emperor Vespasian ordered the stadium constructed 72 years before the birth of Jesus Christ; however, he died before it was completed under the reign of his son, Emperor Titus, in the year 80 AD. It was he who inaugurated the stadium holding 50,000 spectators with 100 days of opening games.

Although many Christians were martyred only a few years after Jesus’ death, it was not until the year 108AD that bishop St. Ignatius of Antioch was consumed by lions in the Colosseum. The famous painting The Christian Martyr’s Last Prayer by Gerome depicts Christians praying together while their fellow martyrs  hang upon crosses in front of a lion.

Chiesa Domine Quo Vadis

In 64AD, tradition says tells us that St. Peter was fleeing Rome from imminent arrest and martyrdom. On this road, he saw Jesus and immediately said quo vadis meaning where are you going? Jesus then responded by telling Peter He was returning to Rome to be crucified again which gave St. Peter the courage to stop fleeing and face death upon a cross. Quo Vadis is now often used by the church as a slogan in promotion of vocations.

Further tradition says that Jesus left his footprint here, in which a copied slab is kept inside the church; however, there is speculation that these may actually be the footprints of a Roman soldier as part of a pagan tribute. St. Peter desired to be crucified upside down so as to not die in the same fashion as Jesus.

San Pietro ad Vincoli

This church, The Basilica of Saint Peter in Chains, opened in 439AD and contains the chains that held St. Peter in jail before his crucifixion. Each Cardinal of the Catholic Church is assigned a “titular basilica” (basilica in title) so  that in ceremony, he may be considered a member of the clergy of Rome. This basilica is assigned to Archdiocese of Washington’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl. In 533AD, Pope John II was elected Pope here. Michelangelo’s Moses is near the altar of this basilica.

A.M.D.G.

Virtual Tour of Christian Rome

St. Peter arrived in Rome circa 42AD and remained there until his martyrdom about 64AD. His successor, Linus, who was ordained Bishop of Rome by the laying on of hands. Each of the readers should desire to have that same zeal of the early Christians. Over the next several days, this blog will cover a virtual tour of Christian Rome divided into three sections:

SPQR, Senatus Populusque Romanus
The Senate and People of Rome

Beati, qui persecutionem patiuntur propter iustitiam (Blessed are those who endure persecution for the sake of justice Matt 5:11)

  1. Colosseum, Forum Romanum – Persecution of Christians circa 45AD-317AD
  2. Chiesa Quo Vadis Domine (Church of “Where are you going, Lord). Where Jesus appeared to Peter in 64AD.
  3. San Pietro in Vincoli, church that holds the chains of St. Peter from when he was in jail
  4. Catacombs, tombs of the early popes, saints, martyrs
  5. Piazza di San Pietro
Non potest civitas abscondi supra montem posita(A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden -Matt 5:14)
  1. Palace and Archbasilica di San Giovanni in Laterano- 317AD, Constantine I legalizes Christianity and gives this palace to Pope St. Miltiades. This church remains the cathedral of the Pope and the spiritual head of the church today.
  2. Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore- Popes return to Rome in 1417, temporarily reside here. St Jerome is buried here.
  3. Quirinial Palace- Housed 30 popes from 15th century to 19th century when Italy was unified.
  4. Basilica of St Peter- Pope Pius IX holds first Vatican Council and moves into the Vatican Apostolic Palace in 1870.
Et ego dico tibi quia tu es Petrus Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam et portae inferi non praevalebunt(And I say to you: you are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it -Matt 16:18).
  1. Mass with Pope Benedict XVI
  2. Angelus with Pope Benedict outdoors in Piazza San Pietro noon local time

A.M.D.G.

San Lorenzo – A hidden jewel of Rome

Located just 76 yards(69 meters) outside of Vatican City is what I call a hidden jewel of Rome, known as the Centro San Lorenzo. The church was first in use around 1140 A.D. and was remodeled in 1659 A.D. (Click on the Google Map photo above for a larger picture)

Quite frankly, the architecture is not aesthetically pleasing. In fact, in the 1930’s, Mussolini had offices built on three sides of it to conceal it from public view. The great news is that the terrible simplicity of the church is actually what makes it so beautiful. Inside there are some wooden benches, an altar, and exposed brick that has clearly undergone some wear and tear. A priest once told me that when the monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament is on the altar for adoration, it really feels like Jesus is in the right place. There are no distractions from adoration, making it easier to grow in your personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

San Lorenzo can be seen in this 1946 photo as the small structure standing on the construction site(right hand side).

Today the church is used by Centro San Lorenzo which is a Christian youth center! The World Youth Day Cross is kept here and is on display during Mass, provided that it isn’t in use somewhere else in the world. During Mass, they use guitars, but they sing in Latin. And at the homily, there are priests and seminarians seated in different parts of the church to provide translations. The incredible respect this youth center takes for the proper celebration of the Liturgy is inspiring. The unique simplicity, history, and mission of San Lorenzo is inspiring and that is why I call it a hidden jewel of Rome.

A.M.D.G.

The Historical Case for Priestly Celibacy

You may be surprised to know that the first pope, St. Peter, was married. In fact, we hear references to Peter’s mother-in-law three times in the Gospels, for example:

Luke 4:38 Then Jesus, rising up from the synagogue, entered into the house of Simon. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in the grip of a severe fever. And they petitioned him on her behalf.

So how did priestly celibacy become a practice of the Church?

The main altar at the Cathedral of St Louis in New Orleans. St. Peter(left) who was married, and St. Paul(right) who was celibate. Above and between them is inscribed “Ecce Panis Angelorum” or “Behold, the Bread of Angles”

What is Celibacy?

Celibacy is a vocational state in one’s own life in which he or she is abstaining from marriage. But it also means those who are celibate remain in a pure state, one absent of sexual relations and even self-centered actions. Celibacy is truly a supernatural calling. Yes, it is a gift, although it is not always an easy one for those who are called to it. One who is called to celibacy through the priesthood or religious life is called to give his or her entire self to God.

A Few Good Examples and a Historical Tradition

Some may say that the Bible instructs us to be married(See ‘Is Marriage Mandatory?); however, we have a few good models of celibacy who demonstrated that it is a valid way of a completely offering one’s self to God. The first and best example is the “high priest” Jesus Christ! Another A+ example is the Apostle Paul.

Celibacy was clearly not mandated of the earliest Christian priests, but as the community grew, the culture shifted so that a man seeking Holy Orders was asked to make himself a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom meaning to make himself totally devoted to the kingdom (Matthew 19:12, see New American translation at the bottom of this post).

St. Jerome(d. 420A.D.), who translated the Bible into Latin in the 4th Century, was an ardent proponent of celibacy. St. Augustine of Hippo(354A.D.-440A.D.), a great Doctor of the Church, was also celibate.

As Church Law

By 305 A.D., the Synod of Elvira explicitly prohibited priests to be married and in 1123 A.D., the First Lateran Council truly spelled it out for the entire Church (Vatican document).

Conclusion

Just as marriage is a sacred calling(of which most Christians are called to), the call to celibacy has been regarded as a sacred calling even since the early times of the Church. It is a most charitable calling and one of total self-giving, although one which is never easy.

He answered, “Not all can accept [this] word, but only those to whom that is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage– for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.” -Matthew 19:11-12

A.M.D.G. 

The Highest Ranking Catholic Church

Most people think the highest ranking Catholic church in the world is the Vatican. In fact, it is actually this basilica. . .San Giovanni in Laterano

Does it look familiar? It should! It’s the photo used at the header of this blog. That is the Papal Archbasilica of St. John Lateran(for short). It is the “mother church” of Catholicism!

Its title in English is

The Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior, and Saint John the Baptist, and the Evangelist at the Lateran

Why does this Church “outrank” the Vatican?

St. Peter, who was recognized as head of the Apostles and was always listed first of the 12, was the Bishop of Rome. Peter handpicked his successor, Pope Linus, who then became the Bishop of Rome; and to that effect, the lineage continues to this day.

In the year 313 A.D., Emperor Constantine I ended the persecution of Christians and changed the law to allow one to lawfully be a Christian. Constantine, who had possession of the Lateran Palace in Rome, gave that property to the Pope, St. Miltiades. Then in 324 A.D., the grand Cathedral opened. St. John Lateran has been the Cathedral of the Diocese of Rome since the year 324 A.D. and thus is the seat of the Pope. Pope Benedict XVI even celebrated Holy Thursday Mass there last week. Since the church’s beginning, five Ecumenical Councils have been held in this Church. For example, in 1139 A.D., the bishops declared that priests must be celibate at the 2nd Lateran Council.

So why do we have the Vatican? 

Constantine I had St. Peter’s Basilica built about the same time as St. John Lateran because it is the traditional site of the tomb of St. Peter. In 1309, the Pope left the Lateran Palace for two centuries and lived in Avignon, France. Even in the later years of the Avignon Papacy, the Vatican remained a special place of governance for the Catholic Church. The Popes returned and have been residing in Rome since the 16th Century. They have lived at the Palace of the Vatican since 1870. Vatican City is the location of the government and main spiritual direction of the Catholic Church. For example: The Papal elections have been held at the Vatican since 1455, the Sistine Chapel was completed in 1481.

The Archbasilica of St. John Lateran remains the Cathedral of the Diocese of Rome. And since it has the Cathedra(The chair of St. Peter from which the Bishop of Rome presides), it is the highest ranking church in the Catholic Church.

Ancient Baptistery

Image

The Emperor Constantine ordered a Baptistery to be built attached to St. John Lateran. Continue reading