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Wednesday, 21 March 2012
St. Patrick: The Man Behind the Holiday
Topic: Saints

A belated treatment of St. Patrick, the patron saint of the Emerald Isle.  Read about the man who brought Christianity to Ireland.


Apostle of Ireland, born at Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, in Scotland, in the year 387; died at Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland, 17 March, 493. Some sources say 460 or 461. --Ed.

He had for his parents Calphurnius and Conchessa. The former belonged to a Roman family of high rank and held the office of decurio in Gaul or Britain. Conchessa was a near relative of the great patron of Gaul, St. Martin of Tours. Kilpatrick still retains many memorials of Saint Patrick, and frequent pilgrimages continued far into the Middle Ages to perpetuate there the fame of his sanctity and miracles.

In his sixteenth year, Patrick was carried off into captivity by Irish marauders and was sold as a slave to a chieftan named Milchu in Dalriada, a territory of the present county of Antrim in Ireland, where for six years he tended his master's flocks in the valley of the Braid and on the slopes of Slemish, near the modern town of Ballymena. He relates in his "Confessio" that during his captivity while tending the flocks he prayed many times in the day: "the love of God", he added,

and His fear increased in me more and more, and the faith grew in me, and the spirit was roused, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers, and in the night nearly the same, so that whilst in the woods and on the mountain, even before the dawn, I was roused to prayer and felt no hurt from it, whether there was snow or ice or rain; nor was there any slothfulness in me, such as I see now, because the spirit was then fervent within me.

In the ways of a benign Providence the six years of Patrick's captivity became a remote preparation for his future apostolate. He acquired a perfect knowledge of the Celtic tongue in which he would one day announce the glad tidings of Redemption, and, as his master Milchu was a druidical high priest, he became familiar with all the details of Druidism from whose bondage he was destined to liberate the Irish race.

Admonished by an angel he after six years fled from his cruel master and bent his steps towards the west. He relates in his "Confessio" that he had to travel about 200 miles; and his journey was probably towards Killala Bay and onwards thence to Westport. He found a ship ready to set sail and after some rebuffs was allowed on board. In a few days he was among his friends once more in Britain, but now his heart was set on devoting himself to the service of God in the sacred ministry. We meet with him at St. Martin's monastery at Tours, and again at the island sanctuary of Lérins which was just then acquiring widespread renown for learning and piety; and wherever lessons of heroic perfection in the exercise of Christian life could be acquired, thither the fervent Patrick was sure to bend his steps. No sooner had St. Germain entered on his great mission at Auxerre than Patrick put himself under his guidance, and it was at that great bishop's hands that Ireland's future apostle was a few years later promoted to the priesthood. It is the tradition in the territory of the Morini that Patrick under St. Germain's guidance for some years was engaged in missionary work among them. When Germain commissioned by the Holy See proceeded to Britain to combat the erroneous teachings of Pelagius, he chose Patrick to be one of his missionary companions and thus it was his privilege to be associated with the representative of Rome in the triumphs that ensued over heresy and Paganism, and in the many remarkable events of the expedition, such as the miraculous calming of the tempest at sea, the visit to the relics at St. Alban's shrine, and the Alleluia victory. Amid all these scenes, however, Patrick's thoughts turned towards Ireland, and from time to time he was favoured with visions of the children from Focluth, by the Western sea, who cried to him: "O holy youth, come back to Erin, and walk once more amongst us."

Pope St. Celestine I, who rendered immortal service to the Church by the overthrow of the Pelagian and Nestorian heresies, and by the imperishable wreath of honour decreed to the Blessed Virgin in the General Council of Ephesus, crowned his pontificate by an act of the most far-reaching consequences for the spread of Christianity and civilization, when he entrusted St. Patrick with the mission of gathering the Irish race into the one fold of Christ. Palladius had already received that commission, but terrified by the fierce opposition of a Wicklow chieftain had abandoned the sacred enterprise. It was St. Germain, Bishop of Auxerre, who commended Patrick to the pope. The writer of St. Germain's Life in the ninth century, Heric of Auxerre, thus attests this important fact: "Since the glory of the father shines in the training of the children, of the many sons in Christ whom St. Germain is believed to have had as disciples in religion, let it suffice to make mention here, very briefly, of one most famous, Patrick, the special Apostle of the Irish nation, as the record of his work proves. Subject to that most holy discipleship for 18 years, he drank in no little knowledge in Holy Scripture from the stream of so great a well-spring. Germain sent him, accompanied by Segetius, his priest, to Celestine, Pope of Rome, approved of by whose judgement, supported by whose authority, and strengthened by whose blessing, he went on his way to Ireland." It was only shortly before his death that Celestine gave this mission to Ireland's apostle and on that occasion bestowed on him many relics and other spiritual gifts, and gave him the name "Patercius" or "Patritius", not as an honorary title, but as a foreshadowing of the fruitfulness and merit of his apostolate whereby he became pater civium (the father of his people). Patrick on his return journey from Rome received at Ivrea the tidings of the death of Palladius, and turning aside to the neighboring city of Turin received episcopal consecration at the hands of its great bishop, St. Maximus, and thence hastened on to Auxerre to make under the guidance of St. Germain due preparations for the Irish mission.

It was probably in the summer months of the year 433, that Patrick and his companions landed at the mouth of the Vantry River close by Wicklow Head. The Druids were at once in arms against him. But Patrick was not disheartened. The intrepid missionary resolved to search out a more friendly territory in which to enter on his mission. First of all, however, he would proceed towards Dalriada, where he had been a slave, to pay the price of ransom to his former master, and in exchange for the servitude and cruelty endured at his hands to impart to him the blessings and freedom of God's children. He rested for some days at the islands off the Skerries coast, one of which still retains the name of Inis-Patrick, and he probably visited the adjoining mainland, which in olden times was known as Holm Patrick. Tradition fondly points out the impression of St. Patrick's foot upon the hard rock — off the main shore, at the entrance to Skerries harbour. Continuing his course northwards he halted at the mouth of the River Boyne. A number of the natives there gathered around him and heard with joy in their own sweet tongue the glad tidings of Redemption. There too he performed his first miracle on Irish soil to confirm the honour due to the Blessed Virgin, and the Divine birth of our Saviour. Leaving one of his companions to continue the work of instruction so auspiciously begun, he hastened forward to Strangford Loughand there quitting his boat continued his journey over land towards Slemish. He had not proceeded far when a chieftain, named Dichu, appeared on the scene to prevent his further advance. He drew his sword to smite the saint, but his arm became rigid as a statue and continued so until he declared himself obedient to Patrick. Overcome by the saint's meekness and miracles, Dichu asked for instruction and made a gift of a large sabhall (barn), in which the sacred mysteries were offered up. This was the first sanctuary dedicated by St. Patrick in Erin. It became in later years a chosen retreat of the saint. A monastery and church were erected there, and the hallowed site retains the name Sabhall (pronounced Saul) to the present day. Continuing his journey towards Slemish, the saint was struck with horror on seeing at a distance the fort of his old master Milchu enveloped in flames. The fame of Patrick's marvelous power of miracles preceeded him. Milchu, in a fit of frenzy, gathered his treasures into his mansion and setting it on fire, cast himself into the flames. An ancient record adds: "His pride could not endure the thought of being vanquished by his former slave".

Returning to Saul, St. Patrick learned from Dichu that the chieftains of Erin had been summoned to celebrate a special feast at Tara by Leoghaire, who was the Ard-Righ, that is, the Supreme Monarch of Ireland. This was an opportunity which Patrick would not forego; he would present himself before the assembly, to strike a decisive blow against the Druidism that held the nation captive, and to secure freedom for the glad tidings of Redemption of which he was the herald. As he journeyed on he rested for some days at the house of a chieftain named Secsnen, who with his household joyfully embraced the Faith. The youthful Benen, or Benignus, son of the chief, was in a special way captivated by the Gospel doctrines and the meekness of Patrick. Whilst the saint slumbered he would gather sweet-scented flowers and scatter them over his bosom, and when Patrick was setting out, continuing his journey towards Tara, Benen clung to his feet declaring that nothing would sever him from him. "Allow him to have his way", said St. Patrick to the chieftain, "he shall be heir to my sacred mission." Thenceforth Benen was the inseparable companion of the saint, and the prophecy was fulfilled, for Benen is named among the "comhards" or sucessors of St. Patrick in Armagh.

It was on 26 March, Easter Sunday, in 433, that the eventful assembly was to meet at Tara, and the decree went forth that from the preceeding day the fires throughout the kingdom should be extinguished until the signal blaze was kindled at the royal mansion. The chiefs and Brehons came in full numbers and the druids too would muster all their strength to bid defiance to the herald of good tidings and to secure the hold of their superstition on the Celtic race, for their demoniac oracles had announced that the messenger of Christ had come to Erin. St. Patrick arrived at the hill of Slane, at the opposite extremity of the valley from Tara, on Easter Eve, in that year the feast of the Annunciation, and on the summit of the hill kindled the Paschal fire. The druids at once raised their voice. "O King", (they said) "live for ever; this fire, which has been lighted in defiance of the royal edict, will blaze for ever in this land unless it be this very night extinguished." By order of the king and the agency of the druids, repeated attempts were made to extinguish the blessed fire and to punish with death the intruder who had disobeyed the royal command. But the fire was not extinguished and Patrick shielded by the Divine power came unscathed from their snares and assaults. On Easter Day the missionary band having at their head the youth Benignus bearing aloft a copy of the Gospels, and followed by St. Patrick who with mitre and crozier was arrayed in full episcopal attire, proceeded in processional order to Tara. The druids and magicians put forth all their strength and employed all their incantations to maintain their sway over the Irish race, but the prayer and faith of Patrick achieved a glorious triumph. The druids by their incantations overspread the hill and surrounding plain with a cloud of worse than Egyptian darkness. Patrick defied them to remove that cloud, and when all their efforts were made in vain, at his prayer the sun sent forth its rays and the brightest sunshine lit up the scene. Again by demoniac power the Arch-Druid Lochru, like Simon Magus of old, was lifted up high in the air, but when Patrick knelt in prayer the druid from his flight was dashed to pieces upon a rock.

Thus was the final blow given to paganism in the presence of all the assembled chieftains. It was, indeed, a momentous day for the Irish race. Twice Patrick pleaded for the Faith before Leoghaire. The king had given orders that no sign of respect was to be extended to the strangers, but at the first meeting the youthful Erc, a royal page, arose to show him reverence; and at the second, when all the chieftains were assembled, the chief-bard Dubhtach showed the same honour to the saint. Both these heroic men became fervent disciples of the Faith and bright ornaments of the Irish Church. It was on this second solemn occasion that St. Patrick is said to have plucked a shamrock from the sward, to explain by its triple leaf and single stem, in some rough way, to the assembled chieftains, the great doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. On that bright Easter Day, the triumph of religion at Tara was complete. The Ard-Righ granted permission to Patrick to preach the Faith throughout the length and breadth of Erin, and the druidical prophecy like the words of Balaam of old would be fulfilled: the sacred fire now kindled by the saint would never be extinguished.

The beautiful prayer of St. Patrick, popularly known as "St. Patrick's Breast-Plate", is supposed to have been composed by him in preparation for this victory over Paganism. The following is a literal translation from the old Irish text:

I bind to myself today
The strong
virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

I bind to myself today
virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day.

I bind to myself today
virtue of the love of seraphim,
In the obedience of
In the
hope of resurrection unto reward,
prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of
In preaching of
faith of Confessors,
In purity of
holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I bind to myself today
The power of
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendour of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.

I bind to myself today
God's Power to guide me,
God's Might to uphold me,
God's Wisdom to teach me,
God's Eye to watch over me,
God's Ear to hear me,
God's Word to give me speech,
God's Hand to guide me,
God's Way to lie before me,
God's Shield to shelter me,
God's Host to secure me,
Against the snares of
Against the seductions of
Against the lusts of
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.

I invoke today all these
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my
Against the incantations of
false prophets,
Against the black
laws of heathenism,
Against the
false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of
Against the spells of
women, and smiths, and druids,
Against every
knowledge that binds the soul of man.

Christ, protect me today
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the poop [deck],
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I bind to myself today
The strong
virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,
believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

St. Patrick remained during Easter week at Slane and Tara, unfolding to those around him the lessons of Divine truth. Meanwhile the national games were being celebrated a few miles distant at Tailten (now Telltown) in connection with the royal feast. St. Patrick proceeding thither solemnly administered baptism to Conall, brother of the Ard-Righ Leoghaire, on Wednesday, 5 April. Benen and others had already been privately gathered into the fold of Christ, but this was the first public administering of baptism, recognized by royal edict, and hence in the ancient Irish Kalendars to the fifth of April is assigned "the beginning of the Baptism of Erin". This first Christian royal chieftain made a gift to Patrick of a site for a church which to the present day retains the name of Donagh-Patrick. The blessing of heaven was with Conall's family. St. Columba is reckoned among his descendants, and many of the kings of Ireland until the eleventh century were of his race. St. Patrick left some of his companions to carry on the work of evangelization in Meath, thus so auspiciously begun. He would himself visit the other territories. Some of the chieftains who had come to Tara were from Focluth, in the neighbourhood of Killala, in Connaught, and as it was the children of Focluth who in vision had summoned him to return to Ireland, he resolved to accompany those chieftains on their return, that thus the district of Focluth would be among the first to receive the glad tidings of Redemption. It affords a convincing proof of the difficulties that St. Patrick had to overcome, that though full liberty to preach the Faith throughout Erin was granted by the monarch of Leoghaire, nevertheless, in order to procure a safe conduct through the intervening territories whilst proceeding towards Connaught he had to pay the price of fifteen slaves. On his way thither, passing through Granard he learned that at Magh-Slecht, not far distant, a vast concourse was engaged in offering worship to the chief idol Crom-Cruach. It was a huge pillar-stone, covered with slabs of gold and silver, with a circle of twelve minor idols around it. He proceeded thither, and with his crosier smote the chief idol that crumbled to dust; the others fell to the ground. At Killala he found the whole people of the territory assembled. At his preaching, the king and his six sons, with 12,000 of the people, became docile to the Faith. He spent seven years visiting every district of Connaught, organizing parishes, forming dioceses, and instructing the chieftains and people.

On the occasion of his first visit to Rathcrogan, the royal seat of the kings of Connaught, situated near Tulsk, in the County of Roscommon, a remarkable incident occurred, recorded in many of the authentic narratives of the saint's life. Close by the clear fountain of Clebach, not far from the royal abode, Patrick and his venerable companions had pitched their tents and at early dawn were chanting the praises of the Most High, when the two daughters of the Irish monarch — Ethne, the fair, and Fedelm, the ruddy — came thither, as was their wont, to bathe. Astonished at the vision that presented itself to them, the royal maidens cried out: "Who are ye, and whence do ye come? Are ye phantoms, or fairies, or friendly mortals?" St. Patrick said to them: "It were better you would adore and worship the one true God, whom we announce to you, than that you would satisfy your curiosity by such vain questions." And then Ethne broke forth into the questions:

"Who is God?"
"And where is
"Where is His dwelling?"
"Has He sons and daughters?"
"Is He rich in silver and gold?"
"Is He everlasting? is He beautiful?"
"Are His daughters dear and lovely to the men of this world?"
"Is He on the heavens or on earth?"
"In the sea, in rivers, in mountains, in valleys?"
"Make Him
known to us. How is He to be seen?"
"How is He to be
loved? How is He to be found?"
"Is it in youth or is it in old age that He may be found?"

But St. Patrick, filled with the Holy Ghost, made answer:

"God, whom we announce to you, is the Ruler of all things."
God of heaven and earth, of the sea and the rivers."
God of the sun, and the moon, and all the stars."
God of the high mountains and of the low-lying valleys."
God who is above heaven, and in heaven, and under heaven."
"His dwelling is in
heaven and earth, and the sea, and all therein."
"He gives breath to all."
"He gives
life to all."
"He is over all."
"He upholds all."
"He gives light to the sun."
"He imparts splendour to the moon."
"He has made wells in the dry land, and islands in the ocean."
"He has appointed the stars to serve the greater lights."
"His Son is co-eternal and co-equal with Himself."
"The Son is not younger than the Father."
"And the Father is not older than the Son."
"And the
Holy Ghost proceeds from them."
"The Father and the Son and the
Holy Ghost are undivided."
"But I desire by
Faith to unite you to the Heavenly King, as you are daughters of an earthly king."

The maidens, as if with one voice and one heart, said: "Teach us most carefully how we may believe in the Heavenly King; show us how we may behold Him face to face, and we will do whatsoever you shall say to us."

And when he had instructed them he said to them: "Do you believe that by baptism you put off the sin inherited from the first parents."

They answered: "We believe."

"Do you believe in penance after sin?"

"We believe."

"Do you believe in life after death?" Do you believe in resurrection on the Day of Judgement?"

"We believe."

"Do you believe in the unity of the Church?"

"We believe."

Then they were baptized, and were clothed in white garments. And they besought that they might behold the face of Christ. And the saint said to them: "You cannot see the face of Christ unless you taste death, and unless you receive the Sacrifice." They answered: "Give us the Sacrifice, so that we may be able to behold our Spouse." And the ancient narrative adds: "when they received the Eucharist of God, they slept in death, and they were placed upon a couch, arrayed in their white baptismal robes."

In 440 St. Patrick entered on the special work of the conversion of Ulster. Under the following year, the ancient annalists relate a wonderful spread of the Faith throughout the province. In 444 a site for a church was granted at Armagh by Daire, the chieftain of the district. It was in a valley at the foot of a hill, but the saint was not content. He had special designs in his heart for that district, and at length the chieftain told him to select in his territory any site he would deem most suitable for his religious purpose. St. Patrick chose that beautiful hill on which the old cathedral of Armagh stands. As he was marking out the church with his companions, they came upon a doe and fawn, and the saint's companions would kill them for food; but St. Patrick would not allow them to do so, and, taking the fawn upon his shoulders, and followed by the doe, he proceeded to a neighbouring hill, and laid down the fawn, and announced that there, in future times, great glory would be given to the Most High. It was precisely upon that hill thus fixed by St. Patrick that, a few years ago, there was solemnly dedicated the new and beautiful Catholic cathedral of Armagh. A representative of the Holy See presided on the occasion, and hundreds of priests and bishops were gathered there; and, indeed, it might truly be said, the whole Irish race on that occasion offered up that glorious cathedral to the Most High as tribute to their united faith and piety, and their never-failing love of God.

From Ulster St. Patrick probably proceeded to Meath to consolidate the organization of the communities there, and thence he continued his course through Leinster. Two of the saint's most distinguished companions, St. Auxilius and St. Iserninus, had the rich valley of the Liffey assigned to them. The former's name is still retained in the church which he founded at Killossy, while the latter is honoured as the first Bishop of Kilcullen. As usual, St. Patrick's primary care was to gather the ruling chieftains into the fold. At Naas, the royal residence in those days, he baptised two sons of the King of Leinster. Memorials of the saint still abound in the district — the ruins of the ancient church which he founded, his holy well, and the hallowed sites in which the power of God was shown forth in miracles. At Sletty, in the immediate neighborhood of Carlow, St. Fiacc, son of the chief Brehon, Dubthach, was installed as bishop, and for a considerable time that see continued to be the chief centre of religion for all Leinster. St. Patrick proceeded through Gowran into Ossory; here he erected a church under the invocation of St. Martin, near the present city of Kilkenny, and enriched it with many precious relics which he had brought from Rome. It was in Leinster, on the borders of the present counties of Kildare and Queen's, that Odhran, St. Patrick's charioteer, attained the martyr's crown. The chieftain of that district honoured the demon-idol, Crom Cruach, with special worship, and, on hearing of that idol being cast down, vowed to avenge the insult by the death of our apostle. Passing through the territory, Odhran overheard the plot that was being organized for the murder of St. Patrick, and as they were setting out in the chariot to continue their journey, asked the saint, as a favour, to take thereins, and to allow himself, for the day, to hold the place of honour and rest. This was granted, and scarcely had they set out when a well-directed thrust of a lance pierced the heart of the devoted charioteer, who thus, by changing places, saved St. Patrick's life, and won for himself the martyr's crown.

St. Patrick next proceeded to Munster. As usual, his efforts were directed to combat error in the chief centres of authority, knowing well that, in the paths of conversion, the kings and chieftains would soon be followed by their subjects. At "Cashel of the Kings" he was received with great enthusiasm, the chiefs and Brehons and people welcoming him with joyous acclaim. While engaged in the baptism of the royal prince Aengus, son of the King of Munster, the saint, leaning on his crosier, pierced with its sharp point the prince's foot. Aengus bore the pain unmoved. When St. Patrick, at the close of the ceremony, saw the blood flow, and asked him why he had been silent, he replied, with genuine heroism, that he thought it might be part of the ceremony, a penalty for the joyous blessings of the Faith that were imparted. The saint admired his heroism, and, taking the chieftain's shield, inscribed on it a cross with the same point of the crozier, and promised that that shield would be the signal of countless spiritual and temporal triumphs.

Our apostle spent a considerable time in the present County of Limerick. The fame of his miracles and sanctity had gone before him, and the inhabitants of Thomond and northern Munster, crossing the Shannon in their frail coracles, hastened to receive his instruction. When giving his blessing to them on the summit of the hill of Finnime, looking out on the rich plains before him, he is said to have prophesied the coming of St. Senanus: "To the green island in the West, at the mouth of the sea [i.e., Inis-Cathaigh, now Scattery Island, at the mouth of the Shannon, near Kilrush], the lamp of the people of God will come; he will be the head of counsel to all this territory." At Sangril (now Singland), in Limerick, and also in the district of Gerryowen, the holy wells of the saint are pointed out, and the slab of rock, which served for his bed, and the altar on which every day he offered up the Holy Sacrifice. On the banks of the Suit, and the Blackwater, and the Lee, wherever the saint preached during the seven years he spent in Munster, a hearty welcome awaited him. The ancient Life attests: "After Patrick had founded cells and churches in Munster, and had ordained persons of every grade, and healed the sick, and resuscitated the dead, he bade them farewell, and imparted his blessing to them." The words of this blessing, which is said to have been given from the hills of Tipperary, as registered in the saint's Life, to which I have just referred, are particularly beautiful:

A blessing on the Munster people —
Men, youths, and
blessing on the land
That yields them fruit.

blessing on every treasure
That shall be produced on their plains,
Without any one being in want of help,
God's blessing be on Munster.

blessing on their peaks,
On their bare flagstones,
blessing on their glens,
blessing on their ridges.

Like the sand of the sea under ships,
Be the number in their hearths;
On slopes, on plains,
On mountains, on hills, a

St. Patrick continued until his death to visit and watch over the churches which he had founded in all the provinces in Ireland. He comforted the faithful in their difficulties, strengthened them in the Faith and in the practice of virtue, and appointed pastors to continue his work among them. It is recorded in his Life that he consecrated no fewer than 350 bishops. He appointed St. Loman to Trim, which rivalled Armagh itself in its abundant harvest of piety. St. Guasach, son of his former master, Milchu, became Bishop of Granard, while the two daughters of the same pagan chieftan founded close by, at Clonbroney, a convent of pious virgins, and merited the aureola of sanctity. St. Mel, nephew of our apostle, had the charge of Ardagh; St. MacCarthem, who appears to have been patricularly loved by St. Patrick, was made Bishop of Clogher. The narrative in the ancient Life of the saint regarding his visit to the district of Costello, in the County of Mayo, serves to illustrate his manner of dealing with the chieftains. He found, it says, the chief, Ernasc, and his son, Loarn, sitting under a tree, "with whom he remained, together with his twelve companions, for a week, and they received from him the doctrine of salvation with attentive ear and mind. Meanwhile he instructed Loarn in the rudiments of learning and piety." A church was erected there, and, in after years, Loarn was appointed to its charge.

The manifold virtues by which the early saints were distinguished shone forth in all their perfection in the life of St. Patrick. When not engaged in the work of the sacred ministry, his whole time was spent in prayer. Many times in the day he armed himself with the sign of the Cross. He never relaxed his penitential exercises. Clothed in a rough hair-shirt, he made the hard rock his bed. His disinterestedness is specially commemorated. Countless converts of high rank would cast their precious ornaments at his feet, but all were restored to them. He had not come to Erin in search of material wealth, but to enrich her with the priceless treasures of the Catholic Faith.

From time to time he withdrew from the spiritual duties of his apostolate to devote himself wholly to prayer and penance. One of his chosen places of solitude and retreat was the island of Lough Derg, which, to our own day, has continued to be a favourite resort of pilgrims, and it is known as St. Patrick's Purgatory. Another theatre of his miraculous power and piety and penitential austerities in the west of Ireland merits particular attention. In the far west of Connaught there is a range of tall mountains, which, arrayed in rugged majesty, bid defiance to the waves and storms of the Atlantic. At the head of this range arises a stately cone in solitary grandeur, about 4000 feet in height, facing Clew Bay, and casting its shadow over the adjoining districts of Aghagower and Westport. This mountain was known in pagan times as the Eagle Mountain, but ever since Ireland was enlightened with the light of Faith it is known as Croagh Patrick, i.e. St. Patrick's mountain, and is honoured as the Holy Hill, the Mount Sinai, of Ireland.

St. Patrick, in obedience to his guardian angel, made this mountain his hallowed place of retreat. In imitation of the great Jewish legislator on Sinai, he spent forty days on its summit in fasting and prayer, and other penitential exercises. His only shelter from the fury of the elements, the wind and rain, the hail and snow, was a cave, or recess, in the solid rock; and the flagstone on which he rested his weary limbs at night is still pointed out. The whole purpose of his prayer was to obtain special blessings and mercy for the Irish race, whom he evangelized. The demons that made Ireland their battlefield mustered all their strength to tempt the saint and disturb him in his solitude, and turn him away, if possible, from his pious purpose. They gathered around the hill in the form of vast flocks of hideous birds of prey. So dense were their ranks that they seemed to cover the whole mountain, like a cloud, and they so filled the air that Patrick could see neither sky nor earth nor ocean. St. Patrick besought God to scatter the demons, but for a time it would seem as if his prayers and tears were in vain. At length he rang his sweet-sounding bell, symbol of his preaching of the Divine truths. Its sound was heard all over the valleys and hills of Erin, everywhere bringing peace and joy. The flocks of demons began to scatter. He flung his bell among them; they took to precipitate flight, and cast themselves into the ocean. So complete was the saint's victory over them that, as the ancient narrative adds, "for seven years no evil thing was to be found in Ireland."

The saint, however, would not, as yet, descend from the mountain. He had vanquished the demons, but he would now wrestle with God Himself, like Jacob of old, to secure the spiritual interests of his people. The angel had announced to him that, to reward his fidelity in prayer and penance, as many of his people would be gathered into heaven as would cover the land and sea as far as his vision could reach. Far more ample, however, were the aspirations of the saint, and he resolved to persevere in fasting and prayer until the fullest measure of his petition was granted. Again and again the angel came to comfort him, announcing new concessions; but all these would not suffice. He would not relinquish his post on the mountain, or relax his penance, until all were granted. At length the message came that his prayers were heard:

  • many souls would be free from the pains of purgatory through his intercession;
  • whoever in the spirit of penance would recite his hymn before death would attain the heavenly reward;
  • barbarian hordes would never obtain sway in his Church;
  • seven years before the Judgement Day, the sea would spread over Ireland to save its people from the temptations and terrors of the Antichrist; and
  • greatest blessing of all, Patrick himself should be deputed to judge the whole Irish race on the last day.

Such were the extraordinary favors which St. Patrick, with his wrestling with the Most High, his unceasing prayers, his unconquerable love of heavenly things, and his unremitting penitential deeds, obtained for the people whom he evangelized.

It is sometimes supposed that St. Patrick's apostolate in Ireland was an unbroken series of peaceful triumphs, and yet it was quite the reverse. No storm of persecution was, indeed stirred up to assail the infant Church, but the saint himself was subjected to frequent trials at the hands of the druids and of other enemies of the Faith. He tells us in his "Confessio" that no fewer than twelve times he and his companions were seized and carried off as captives, and on one occasion in particular he was loaded with chains, and his death was decreed. But from all these trials and sufferings he was liberated by a benign Providence. It is on account of the many hardships which he endured for the Faith that, in some of the ancient Martyrologies, he is honoured as a martyr.

St. Patrick, having now completed his triumph over Paganism, and gathered Ireland into the fold of Christ, prepared for the summons to his reward. St. Brigid came to him with her chosen virgins, bringing the shroud in which he would be enshrined. It is recorded that when St. Patrick and St. Brigid were united in their last prayer, a special vision was shown to him. He saw the whole of Ireland lit up with the brightest rays of Divine Faith. This continued for centuries, and then clouds gathered around the devoted island, and, little by little, the religious glory faded away, until, in the course of centuries, it was only in the remotest valleys that some glimmer of its light remained. St. Patrick prayed that the light would never be extinguished, and, as he prayed, the angel came to him and said: "Fear not: your apostolate shall never cease." As he thus prayed, the glimmering light grew in brightness, and ceased not until once more all the hills and valleys of Ireland were lit up in their pristine splendour, and then the angel announced to St. Patrick: "Such shall be the abiding splendour of Divine truth in Ireland."

At Saul (Sabhall), St. Patrick received the summons to his reward on 17 March, 493 [See note above — Ed.]. St. Tassach administered the last sacraments to him. His remains were wrapped in the shroud woven by St. Brigid's own hands. The bishops and clergy and faithful people from all parts crowded around his remains to pay due honour to the Father of their Faith. Some of the ancient Lives record that for several days the light of heaven shone around his bier. His remains were interred at the chieftan's Dun or Fort two miles from Saul, where in after times arose the cathedral of Down.

Writings of St. Patrick

The "Confessio" and the "Epistola ad Coroticum" are recognized by all modern critical writers as of unquestionable genuineness. The best edition, with text, translation, and critical notes, is by Rev. Dr. White for the Royal Irish Academy, in 1905. The 34 canons of a synod held before the year 460 by St. Patrick, Auxilius, and Isserninus, though rejected by Todd and Haddan, have been placed by Professor Bury beyond the reach of controversy. Another series of 31 ecclesiastical canons entitled "Synodus secunda Patritii", though unquestionably of Irish origin and dating before the close of the seventh century, is generally considered to be of a later date than St. Patrick. Two tracts (in P.L., LIII), entitled "De abusionibus saeculi", and "De Tribus habitaculis", were composed by St. Patrick in Irish and translated into Latin at a later period. Passages from them are assigned to St. Patrick in the "Collectio Hibernensis Canonum", which is of unquestionable authority and dates from the year 700 (Wasserschleben, 2nd ed., 1885). This "Collectio Hibernensis" also assigns to St. Patrick the famous synodical decree: "Si quae quaestiones in hac insula oriantur, ad Sedem Apostolicam referantur." (If any difficulties arise in this island, let them be referred to the Apostolic See). The beautiful prayer, known as "Faeth Fiada", or the "Lorica of St. Patrick" (St. Patrick's Breast-Plate), first edited by Petrie in his "History of Tara", is now universally accepted as genuine. The "Dicta Sancti Patritii", or brief sayings of the saint, preserved in the "Book of Armagh", are accurately edited by Fr. Hogan, S.J., in "Documenta de S. Patritio" (Brussels, 1884). The old Irish text of "The Rule of Patrick" has been edited by O'Keeffe, and a translation by Archbishop Healy in the appendix to his Life of St. Patrick (Dublin, 1905). It is a tract of venerable antiquity, and embodies the teaching of the saint.

Posted by Professorburton at 12:13 AM CDT
Saturday, 10 March 2012
The Bacchanalia: Greco-Roman festival of revelry
Topic: Festivals

Fast approaching is the time when the Romans celebrated the Bacchanalia, a festival of drunken revelry and debauched behavior that began on March 16.  The feast has its roots in Greek religion, but Greek contact with the Romans brought it to Latin shores.  Some knowledge of the festival is useful to the student of the Bible and of ancient history in general, as it was celebrated throughout the Roman world eventually.  Here is a brief essay on Bacchanalia from the erudite classicist William Smith.


The worship of Dionysus, whom the Romans called Bacchus, or rather the Bacchic mysteries and orgies (Bacchanalia), are said to have been introduced from southern Italy into Etruria, and from thence into Rome (Liv. XXXIX.8), where for a time they were carried on in secret, and, during the latter period of their existence, at night. The initiated, according to Livy, did not only indulge in feasting and drinking at their meetings, but when their minds were heated with wine, they indulged in the coarsest excesses and the most unnatural vices. Young girls and youths were seduced, and all modesty was set aside; every kind of vice found here its full satisfaction. But crimes did not remain confined to these meetings; for false witnesses, forgeries, false wills, and denunciations proceeded from this focus of crime. Poison and assassination were carried on under the cover of the society; and the voices of those who had been fraudulently drawn into these orgies, and would cry out against the shameless practices, were drowned by the shouts of the Bacchantes, and the deafening sounds of drums and cymbals.

The time of initiation lasted ten days, during which a person was obliged to abstain from all sexual intercourse; on the tenth he took a solemn meal, underwent a purification by water, and was led into the sanctuary (Bacchanal). At first only women were initiated, and the orgies were celebrated every year during three days. Matrons alternately performed the functions of priests. But Pacula Annia, a Campanian matron, pretending to act under the direct influence of Bacchus, changed the whole method of celebration; she admitted men to the initiation, and transferred the solemnisation which had hitherto taken place during the daytime to the night. Instead of three days in the year, she ordered that the Bacchanalia should be held during five days in every month. It was from the time that these orgies were carried on after this new plan that, according to the statement of an eye-witness (Liv. XXXIX.13), licentiousness and crimes of every description were committed. Men as well as women indulged in the most unnatural appetites, and those who attempted to stop or to oppose such odious proceedings fell as victims. It was, as Livy says, a principle of the society to hold every ordinance of god and nature in contempt. Men, as if seized by fits of madness, and under great convulsions, gave oracles; and the matrons, dressed as Bacchae, with disheveled hair and burning torches in their hands, ran down to the Tiber and plunged their torches into the water; the torches, however, containing sulphur and chalk, were not extinguished. Men who refused to take part in the crimes of these orgies, were frequently thrown into dark caverns and despatched, while the perpetrators declared that they had been carried off by the gods. Among the number of the members of these mysteries, were, at the time when they were suppressed, persons of all classes; and during the last two years, nobody had been initiated who was above the age of twenty years, as this age was thought most fit for seduction and sensual pleasure.

In the year B.C. 186, the consuls Spurius Postumius Albinus and Q. Marcius Philippus were informed of the existence of these meetings; and after having ascertained the facts mentioned above, they made a report to the senate (Liv. XXXIX.14). The senate, alarmed by this singular discovery, and although dreading lest members of their own families might be involved, invested the consuls with extraordinary power, to inquire into the nature of these nocturnal meetings, to exert all their energy to secure the priests and priestesses, to issue a proclamation throughout Rome and Italy, forbidding any one to be initiated in the Bacchic mysteries, or to meet for the purpose of celebrating them; but above all things, to submit those individuals who had already been secured to a rigid trial. The consuls, after having given to the subordinate magistrates all the necessary instructions, held an assembly of the people, in which the facts just discovered were explained to the public, in order that the objects of the proceedings which were to take place might be known to every citizen. A reward was at the time offered to any one who might be able to give further information, or to name any one that belonged to the conspiracy, as it was called. Measures were also taken to prevent any one from leaving Italy. During the night following, a great number of persons were apprehended; many of them put an end to their own lives. The whole number of the initiated was said to be 7000. The trial of all those who were apprehended lasted thirty days. Rome was almost deserted, for the innocent as well as the guilty had reason to fear. The punishment inflicted on those who were convicted, varied according to the degree of their guilt; some were thrown into prison, others were put to death. The women were surrendered to p414their parents or husbands, that they might receive their punishment in private. The consuls then were ordered by the senate to destroy all Bacchanalia throughout Rome and Italy, with the exception of such altars or statues of the god as had existed there from ancient times. In order to prevent a restoration of the Bacchic orgies, the celebrated decree of the senate (Senatus auctoritas de Bacchanalibus)a was issued, commanding that no Bacchanalia should be held either in Rome or in Italy; that if any one should think such ceremonies necessary, or if he could not neglect them without scruples or making atonements, he should apply to the praetor urbanus, who might then consult the senate. If the permission should be granted to him in an assembly of the senate, consisting of not less than one hundred members, he might solemnise the Bacchic sacra; but no more than five persons were to be present at the celebration; there should be no common fund, and no master of the sacra or priest (Liv. XXXIX.18). This decree is also mentioned by Cicero (De Legg. II.15). A brazen table containing this important document was discovered near Bari, in southern Italy, in the year 1640, and is at present in the imperial Museum of Vienna. A copy of it is given in Drakenborch's edition of Livy (vol. VII p197, &c.).

We have in our account of the Roman Bacchanalia closely followed the description given by Livy, which may, indeed, be somewhat exaggerated; but considering the difference of character between the Greeks and Romans, it cannot be surprising that a festival like the Dionysia, when once introduced among the Romans, should have immediately degenerated into the grossest and coarsest excesses. Similar consequences were seen immediately after the time when the Romans were made acquainted with the elegance and the luxuries of Greek life; for, like barbarians, they knew not where to stop, and became brutal in their enjoyments. But whether the account of Livy be exaggerated or not, this much is certain, that the Romans, ever since the time of the suppression of the Bacchanalia, considered these orgies as in the highest degree immoral and licentious, as we see from the manner in which they applied the words derived from Bacchus, e.g. bacchor, bacchans, bacchatio, bacchicus, and others. But the most surprising circumstance in the account of Livy is, that the Bacchanalis should have been celebrated for several years in the boisterous manner described by him, and by thousands of persons, without any of the magistrates appearing to have been aware of it.

While the Bacchanalia were thus suppressed, another more simple and innocent festival of Bacchus, the Liberalia (from Liber, or Liber Pater, a name of Bacchus), continued to be celebrated at Rome every year on the 16th of March (Ovid. Fast. III.713). A description of the ceremonies customary at this festival is given by Ovid (l.c.), with which may be compared Varro (Varr. De Ling. Lat. V.55, ed. Bipont.). Priests and aged priestesses, adorned with garlands of ivy, carried through the city wine, honey, cakes, and sweet-meats, together with an altar with a handle (ansata ara), in the middle of which there was a small fire-pan (foculus), in which from time to time sacrifices were burnt. On this day Roman youths who had attained their sixteenth year received the toga virilis (Cic. ad Att. VI.1). That the Liberalia were celebrated with various amusements and great merriment, might be inferred from the general character of Dionysiac festivals; but we may also see it from the name Ludi Liberales, which is sometimes used instead of Liberalia; and Naevius (ap. Fest.) expressly says that persons expressed themselves very freely at the Liberalia. St. Augustine (De Civ. DeiVII.21) even speaks of a high degree of licentiousness carried on at this festival.

Posted by Professorburton at 6:15 PM CST
Tuesday, 6 March 2012
Topic: Festivals

The Jewish festival of Purim is tomorrow, March 7.  I invite you to read about the roots and history here.


(lots ), the annual festival instituted to commemorate the preservation of the Jews in Persia from the massacre with which they were threatened through the machinations of Haman. ( Esther 9:1 ) ... It was probably called Purim by the Jews in irony. Their great enemy Haman appears to have been very superstitious, and much given to casting lots. ( Esther 3:7 ) They gave the name. Purim, or "Lots," to the commemorative festival because he had thrown lots to ascertain what day would be suspicious for him to carry into effect the bloody decree which the king had issued at his instance. ( Esther 9:24 ) The festival lasted two days, and was regularly observed on the 14th and 15th of Adar. According to modern custom, as soon as the stars begin to appear, when the 14th of the month has commenced, candles are lighted up in token of rejoicing, and the people assemble in the synagogue. After a short prayer and thanksgiving, the reading of the book of Esther commences. The book is written in a peculiar manner, on a roll called "the Roll" (Megillah). When the reader comes to the name of Haman, the congregation cry out, "May his name be blotted out," or, "Let the name of the ungodly perish." When the Megillah is read through, the whole congregation exclaim, "Cursed be Haman; blessed be Mordecai; cursed be Zoresh (the wife of Haman); blessed be Esther; cursed be all idolaters; blessed be all Israelites, and blessed be Harbonah who hanged Haman." In the morning service in the synagogue, on the 14th, after the prayers, the passage is read from the law, ( Exodus 17:8-16 ) which relates the destruction of the Amalekites, the people of Agag, ( 1 Samuel 15:8 ) the supposed ancestor of Haman. ( Esther 3:1 ) The Megillah is then read again in the same manner. The 14th of Adar, as the very day of the deliverance of the Jews, is more solemnly kept than the 13th; but when the service in the synagogue is over, all give themselves up to merry making.

Posted by Professorburton at 10:34 PM CST
Friday, 24 February 2012
Topic: Observances

As it is Lent season, I thought it appropriate to provide some background on the meaning and history.

Origin of the word

The Teutonic word Lent, which we employ to denote the forty days' fast preceding Easter, originally meant no more than the spring season. Still it has been used from the Anglo-Saxon period to translate the more significant Latin term quadragesima (French carême, Italian quaresima, Spanish cuaresma), meaning the "forty days", or more literally the "fortieth day". This in turn imitated the Greek name for Lent, tessarakoste (fortieth), a word formed on the analogy of Pentecost (pentekoste), which last was in use for the Jewish festival before New Testament times. This etymology, as we shall see, is of some little importance in explaining the early developments of the Easter fast.

Origin of the custom

Some of the Fathers as early as the fifth century supported the view that this forty days' fast was of Apostolic institution. For example, St. Leo (d. 461) exhorts his hearers to abstain that they may "fulfill with their fasts the Apostolic institution of the forty days" — ut apostolica institutio quadraginta dierum jejuniis impleatur (P.L., LIV, 633), and the historian Socrates (d. 433) and St. Jerome (d. 420) use similar language (P.G., LXVII, 633; P.L., XXII, 475).

But the best modern scholars are almost unanimous in rejecting this view, for in the existing remains of the first three centuries we find both considerable diversity of practice regarding the fast before Easter and also a gradual process of development in the matter of its duration. The passage of primary importance is one quoted by Eusebius (Church History V.24) from a letter of St. Irenaeus to Pope Victor in connection with the Easter controversy. There Irenaeus says that there is not only a controversy about the time of keeping Easter but also regarding the preliminary fast. "For", he continues, "some think they ought to fast for one day, others for two days, and others even for several, while others reckon forty hours both of day and night to their fast". He also urges that this variety of usage is of ancient date, which implies that there could have been no Apostolic tradition on the subject. Rufinus, who translated Eusebius into Latin towards the close of the fourth century, seems so to have punctuated this passage as to make Irenaeus say that some people fasted for forty days. Formerly some difference of opinion existed as to the proper reading, but modern criticism (e.g., in the edition of Schwartz commissioned by the Berlin Academy) pronounces strongly in favor of the text translated above. We may then fairly conclude that Irenaeus about the year 190 knew nothing of any Easter fast of forty days.

The same inference must be drawn from the language of Tertullian only a few years later. When writing as a Montanist, he contrasts the very slender term of fasting observed by the Catholics (i.e., "the days on which the bridegroom was taken away", probably meaning the Friday and Saturday of Holy Week) with the longer but still restricted period of a fortnight which was kept by the Montanists. No doubt he was referring to fasting of a very strict kind (xerophagiæ — dry fasts), but there is no indication in his works, though he wrote an entire treatise "De Jejunio", and often touches upon the subject elsewhere, that he was acquainted with any period of forty days consecrated to more or less continuous fasting (see Tertullian, On Fasting 2 and 14; cf. On Prayer 18; etc.).

And there is the same silence observable in all the pre-Nicene Fathers, though many had occasion to mention such an Apostolic institution if it had existed. We may note for example that there is no mention of Lent in St. Dionysius of Alexandria (ed. Feltoe, 94 sqq.) or in the "Didascalia", which Funk attributes to about the yearkú yet both speak diffusely of the paschal fast.

Further, there seems much to suggest that the Church in the Apostolic Age designed to commemorate the Resurrection of Christ, not by an annual, but by a weekly celebration (see "The Month", April 1910, 337 sqq.). If this be so, the Sunday liturgy constituted the weekly memorial of the Resurrection, and the Friday fast that of the Death of Christ. Such a theory offers a natural explanation of the wide divergence which we find existing in the latter part of the second century regarding both the proper time for keeping Easter, and also the manner of the paschal fast. Christians were at one regarding the weekly observance of the Sunday and the Friday, which was primitive, but the annual Easter festival was something superimposed by a process of natural development, and it was largely influenced by the conditions locally existing in the different Churches of the East and West. Moreover, with the Easter festival there seems also to have established itself a preliminary fast, not as yet anywhere exceeding a week in duration, but very severe in character, which commemorated the Passion, or more generally, "the days on which the bridegroom was taken away".

Be this as it may, we find in the early years of the fourth century the first mention of the term tessarakoste. It occurs in the fifth canon of the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325), where there is only question of the proper time for celebrating a synod, and it is conceivable that it may refer not to a period but to a definite festival, e.g., the Feast of the Ascension, or the Purification, which Ætheria calls quadragesimæ de Epiphania. But we have to remember that the older word, pentekoste (Pentecost) from meaning the fiftieth day, had come to denote the whole of the period (which we should call Paschal Time) between Easter Sunday and Whit-Sunday (cf. Tertullian, On Idolatry 14, — "pentecosten implere non poterunt"). In any case it is certain from the "Festal Letters" of St. Athanasius that in 331 the saint enjoined upon his flock a period of forty days of fasting preliminary to, but not inclusive of, the stricter fast of Holy Week, and secondly that in 339 the same Father, after having traveled to Rome and over the greater part of Europe, wrote in the strongest terms to urge this observance upon the people of Alexandria as one that was universally practiced, "to the end that while all the world is fasting, we who are in Egypt should not become a laughing-stock as the only people who do not fast but take our pleasure in those days". Although Funk formerly maintained that a Lent of forty days was not known in the West before the time of St. Ambrose, this is evidence which cannot be set aside.

Duration of the fast

In determining this period of forty days the example of Moses, Elias, and Christ must have exercised a predominant influence, but it is also possible that the fact was borne in mind that Christ lay forty hours in the tomb. On the other hand just as Pentecost (the fifty days) was a period during which Christians were joyous and prayed standing, though they were not always engaged in such prayer, so the Quadragesima (the forty days) was originally a period marked by fasting, but not necessarily a period in which the faithful fasted every day. Still, this principle was differently understood in different localities, and great divergences of practice were the result. In Rome, in the fifth century, Lent lasted six weeks, but according to the historian Socrates there were only three weeks of actual fasting, exclusive even then of the Saturday and Sunday and if Duchesne's view may be trusted, these weeks were not continuous, but were the first, the fourth, and sixth of the series, being connected with the ordinations (Christian Worship, 243). Possibly, however, these three weeks had to do with the "scrutinies" preparatory to Baptism, for by some authorities (e.g., A.J. Maclean in his "Recent Discoveries") the duty of fasting along with the candidate for baptism is put forward as the chief influence at work in the development of the forty days. But throughout the Orient generally, with some few exceptions, the same arrangement prevailed as St. Athanasius's "Festal Letters" show us to have obtained in Alexandria, namely, the six weeks of Lent were only preparatory to a fast of exceptional severity maintained during Holy Week. This is enjoined by the "Apostolic Constitutions" (V.13), and presupposed by St. Chrysostom (Hom. xxx in Gen., I). But the number forty, having once established itself, produced other modifications. It seemed to many necessary that there should not only be fasting during the forty days but forty actual fasting days. Thus we find Ætheria in her "Peregrinatio" speaking of a Lent of eight weeks in all observed at Jerusalem, which, remembering that both the Saturday and Sunday of ordinary weeks were exempt, gives five times eight, i.e., forty days for fasting. On the other hand, in many localities people were content to observe no more than a six weeks' period, sometimes, as at Milan, fasting only five days in the week after the oriental fashion (Ambrose, "De Elia et Jejunio", 10). In the time of Gregory the Great (590-604) there were apparently at Rome six weeks of six days each, making thirty-six fast days in all, which St. Gregory, who is followed therein by many medieval writers, describes as the spiritual tithing of the year, thirty-six days being approximately the tenth part of three hundred and sixty-five. At a later date the wish to realize the exact number of forty days led to the practice of beginning Lent upon our present Ash Wednesday, but the Church of Milan, even to this day, adheres to the more primitive arrangement, which still betrays itself in the Roman Missal when the priest in the Secret of the Mass on the first Sunday of Lent speaks of "sacrificium quadragesimalis initii", the sacrifice of the opening of Lent.

Nature of the fast

Neither was there originally less divergence regarding the nature of the fast. For example, the historian Socrates (Church History V.22) tells of the practice of the fifth century: "Some abstain from every sort of creature that has life, while others of all the living creatures eat of fish only. Others eat birds as well as fish, because, according to the Mosaic account of the Creation, they too sprang from the water; others abstain from fruit covered by a hard shell and from eggs. Some eat dry bread only, others not even that; others again when they have fasted to the ninth hour (three o'clock) partake of various kinds of food". Amid this diversity some inclined to the extreme limits of rigor. Epiphanius, Palladius, and the author of the "Life of St. Melania the Younger" seem to contemplate a state of things in which ordinary Christians were expected to pass twenty-four hours or more without food of any kind, especially during Holy Week, while the more austere actually subsisted during part or the whole of Lent upon one or two meals a week (see Rampolla, "Vita di. S. Melania Giuniore", appendix xxv, p. 478). But the ordinary rule on fasting days was to take but one meal a day and that only in the evening, while meat and, in the early centuries, wine were entirely forbidden. During Holy Week, or at least on Good Friday it was common to enjoin the xerophagiæ, i.e., a diet of dry food, bread, salt, and vegetables.

There does not seem at the beginning to have been any prohibition of lacticinia, as the passage just quoted from Socrates would show. Moreover, at a somewhat later date, Bede tells us of Bishop Cedda, that during Lent he took only one meal a day consisting of "a little bread, a hen's egg, and a little milk mixed with water" (Church History III.23), while Theodulphus of Orleans in the eighth century regarded abstinence from eggs, cheese, and fish as a mark of exceptional virtue. None the less St. Gregory writing to St. Augustine of England laid down the rule, "We abstain from flesh meat, and from all things that come from flesh, as milk, cheese, and eggs." This decision was afterwards enshrined in the "Corpus Juris", and must be regarded as the common law of the Church. Still exceptions were admitted, and dispensations to eat "lacticinia" were often granted upon condition of making a contribution to some pious work. These dispensations were known in Germany as Butterbriefe, and several churches are said to have been partly built by the proceeds of such exceptions. One of the steeples of Rouen cathedral was for this reason formerly known as the Butter Tower. This general prohibition of eggs and milk during Lent is perpetuated in the popular custom of blessing or making gifts of eggs at Easter, and in the English usage of eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.

Relaxations of the lenten fast

From what has been said it will be clear that in the early Middle Ages Lent throughout the greater part of the Western Church consisted of forty weekdays, which were all fast days, and six Sundays. From the beginning to the end of that time all flesh meat, and also, for the most part, "lacticinia", were forbidden even on Sundays, while on all the fasting days only one meal was taken, which single meal was not permitted before evening. At a very early period, however (we find the first mention of it in Socrates), the practice began to be tolerated of breaking the fast at the hour of none, i.e., three o'clock. We learn in particular that Charlemagne, about the year 800, took his lenten repast at 2 p.m. This gradual anticipation of the hour of dinner was facilitated by the fact that the canonical hours of none, vespers, etc., represented rather periods than fixed points of time. The ninth hour, or none, was no doubt strictly three o'clock in the afternoon, but the Office of none might be recited as soon as sext, which, of course, corresponded to the sixth hour, or midday, was finished. Hence none in course of time came to be regarded as beginning at midday, and this point of view is perpetuated in our word noon which means midday and not three o'clock in the afternoon. Now the hour for breaking the fast during Lent was after Vespers (the evening service), but by a gradual process the recitation of Vespers was more and more anticipated, until the principle was at last officially recognized, as it is at present, that Vespers in lent may be said at midday. In this way, although the author of the "Micrologus" in the eleventh century still declared that those who took food before evening did not observe the lenten fast according to the canons (P.L., CLI, 1013), still, even at the close of the thirteenth century, certain theologians, for example the Franciscan Richard Middleton, who based his decision in part upon contemporary usage, pronounced that a man who took his dinner at midday did not break the lenten fast.

Still more material was the relaxation afforded by the introduction of "collation". This seems to have begun in the ninth century, when the Council of Aix la Chapelle sanctioned the concession, even in monastic houses, of a draught of water or other beverage in the evening to quench the thirst of those who were exhausted by the manual labor of the day. From this small beginning a much larger indulgence was gradually evolved. The principle of parvitas materiae, i.e., that a small quantity of nourishment which was not taken directly as a meal did not break the fast, was adopted by St. Thomas Aquinas and other theologians, and in the course of centuries a recognized quantity of solid food, which according to received authorities must not exceed eight ounces, has come to be permitted after the midday repast. As this evening drink, when first tolerated in the ninth-century monasteries, was taken at the hour at which the "Collationes" (Conferences) of Abbot Cassian were being read aloud to the brethren, this slight indulgence came to be known as a "collation", and the name has continued since.

Other mitigations of an even more substantial character have been introduced into lenten observance in the course of the last few centuries. To begin with, the custom has been tolerated of taking a cup of liquid (e.g., tea or coffee, or even chocolate) with a fragment of bread or toast in the early morning. But, what more particularly regards Lent, successive indults have been granted by the Holy See allowing meat at the principal meal, first on Sundays, and then on two, three, four, and five weekdays, throughout nearly the whole of Lent. Quite recently, Maundy Thursday, upon which meat was hitherto always forbidden, has come to share in the same indulgence. In the United States, the Holy See grants faculties whereby working men and their families may use flesh meat once a day throughout the year, except Fridays, Ash Wednesday, Holy Saturday, and the vigil of Christmas. The only compensation imposed for all these mitigations is the prohibition during Lent against partaking of both fish and flesh at the same repast.

Posted by Professorburton at 9:06 PM CST
Updated: Friday, 24 February 2012 9:09 PM CST
Thursday, 16 February 2012
The Lupercalia in the Fifth Century
Topic: Roman Religion

As it is still timely, here is another article on the Lupercalia by classicist William Green.  This one is interesting in that it illustrates how long it persisted.  There are a few Latin passages in it, but not so many that would confound the general thesis to the lay reader.  Enjoy my friends:

The remark is often made that the Lupercalia was among the most long-lived of pagan institutions, lasting till near the close of the fifth century, long after the old pagan worship was legally suppressed. While this is true, the references to the Lupercalia of this period found in well-known works are often distinctly uncritical. For example, Pope Hilary is said in A.D. 467 to have demanded the abolition of this festival from the Emperor Anthemius,1 whereas the sources state only that the Pope warned the Emperor against tolerating heresies,2 and that the Lupercalia had continued through the time of Anthemius.3 Again, in almost all the discussions of the institution it is said that Pope Gelasius in 494 converted the pagan festival into the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin (Candlemas). This conjecture of Cardinal Baronius4 was based on the fact that Gelasius had suppressed the pagan festival, and that the quadragesima Epiphaniae (February 14), the earliest form of the Christian festival, so nearly coincided with its date, February 15. Usener and later writers on Christian ritual5 have recognized Baronius' mistake, in that the quadragesima Epiphaniae was never celebrated in Rome, and that the date of Candlemas, which must follow Christmas with an interval of forty days, could never in the West have been p61other than February 2. Yet such scholars as Marquardt, Fowler, Schanz, and Frazer6 continue to follow the sixteenth-century cardinal.

There is no doubt but that the Lupercalia continued till the time of Pope Gelasius (A.D. 494‑96). It is mentioned by Augustine in the latter part of the City of God7 (written not far from 426), and it is included in the calendar of the Christian Polemius Silvius, of 448/9.8 When it was finally abolished by the efforts of Gelasius, he addressed to a group of senators an epistle defending the step, which approximates the length of an apologetic treatise.9 He admits that the old pagan rite had continued under his predecessors, through the days of Alaric, Anthemius, and Ricimer, and had been abolished only in his own time;10 but he defends the earlier popes by saying that ills could not be healed at once, and that perhaps they had tried to remove this superstition but had failed to win the support of the imperial court.11

Those who pleaded for the restoration of the prefect were all members of the bishop's spiritual flock,12 and it was evidently through such persons that the rites had been carried on during the preceding century of Christian rule. In a long series of laws, commencing with the year 341, pagan worship had been forbidden, especially the sacrifices, such as were characteristic of the Lupercalia; and the severest penalties were prescribed.13 The last organized resistance by the pagans was crushed by Theodosius I at the battle of the Frigidus in 394,14 p62while the subsequent process of suppressing the pagan cult, with the occasional riots resulting, is well illustrated by the letters of St. Augustine.15 From all the sources it would appear that the public observance of pagan rites was effectually suppressed by 408. The Lupercalia, then, must belong to the class of superstitions which lingered on among a nominally Christian people. Something of the nature of this superstition may be learned from the letter of Pope Gelasius cited above.

1. As to the purpose of the Lupercalia. — A pestilence had broken out in Campania, which Andromachus and other senators ascribed to the suppression of the Lupercalia. The Pope replied that the purpose of the festival was not to avert pestilence but to promote the fertility of women; that pestilence and ills of every sort had been abundant while the Lupercalia continued; and that there was no connection between a city festival and happenings in Campania.16

This reply raises a question as to the purpose of the rites. Gelasius cites an account from the second decade of Livy (292‑218 B.C.), to the effect that the Lupercalia was instituted to relieve the sterility of Roman matrons.17 The service thus rendered by the scourging of the Luperci is mentioned by many writers. But a number of sources indicate that the Lupercalia was, in a wider sense, a festival of purification. It was the most important event of the month of February, which received its name from the purification (februare = "to purify").18 The day of the Lupercalia was known as the dies februatus, or "Purified Day."19 The course taken by the runners was a lustration of the ancient Palatine settlement;20 but in historic times its benefits were extended to the entire city,21 so that it is not unreasonable to suppose that the Roman inhabitants of outlying districts felt their interests involved.

p63 Such rituals of purification are among the commonest of all magical or religious practices designed, as Frazer says,22 "to repel the powers of evil and so to liberate the powers of good, thus promoting the fertility at once of man, of beast, and of the earth." So the Lupercalia was believed to make provision for the growth of crops,23 coming at a season appropriate for that purpose. In the Roman ritual a number of festivals belong to this class, and on the occasion of prodigia extraordinary lustrations took place.24 Two writers have preserved for us versions of the prayer that accompanied the lustration of a Roman estate, which show clearly the aim to avert all forms of evil. When the farmer has given orders for the hog, sheep, and ox of the suovetaurilia to be led about his farm, he prays to Father Mars to keep off diseases, sterility, destruction, calamities, and bad weather ("morbos visos invisosque, viduertatem vastitudinemque, calamitates intemperiasque"), allowing the crops to grow to an abundant harvest, preserving shepherds and flock, giving health to master and household.25 Festus includes a request for the averting of pestilence, disease, death, ruin, vapors, and the scab ("pesestas. . . . morbum, mortem, labem, nebulam, impetiginem").26

So firmly intrenched were such superstitions of the mob that in 397 a group of Christian missionaries in Anaunia, north of the Po, were slain for attempting to prevent the lustral ceremony.27

The Lupercalia was the best known and most spectacular of such purifications. It persisted through a century of Christian rule, while the others, so far as we know, disappeared, or were remodeled and adopted into the calendar of the church.28 It would be quite natural for it to take over, somewhat, the functions of those that were lost. Thus the suppression of a pestilence on Campanian estates would more properly be a function of the ambarvalia, but was now associated with the Lupercalia. How seriously people believed in such an association we cannot tell. The Pope scoffs at the idea, yet thought it necessary to write an answer in several thousand words.

p64 2. The deity honored. — The Pope describes the rites as a worship of demons, a propitiatory sacrifice to the February god — "quia daemonia non colantur et deo Februario non litetur."29

The god of the Lupercalia is given many names — Faunus, Pan, Lupercus, Lycaeus, Inuus — even Bacchus and Juno are mentioned — but the name of the month is nowhere else applied to the god. Late writers refer to a Februus, the personification of the month, who is once named as honored by the Luperci.30 There was, in fact, no general agreement as to the identity of the god. This leads to the modern suggestion that the Lupercalia was originally a magical rather than a religious rite, and hence did not involve a reference to any particular deity.31 This would help to explain its survival in the fifth century, among the many other magical practices which the church continued to combat through the centuries. The adjective Februarius might serve as a description of the unnamed spirit who presided over the month of purification and its principal festival, and would be less distinctively pagan than the name of any god formerly connected with the rites.

Gelasius, however, was acquainted somewhat further with the half-animal nature of this daemon, describing worshipers as "digni, qui monstrum nescio quod pecudis hominisque mixtura compositum, sive vere sive false editum celebretis."32 One thinks at once of his identification with Pan or Faunus, and of the statue set up in the Lupercal, nude except for the goat-skin about his loins, just as the Luperci appeared in the festival.33 Such creatures — Panes, fauns, silvans, werewolves, and a myriad of others — abound in the folk lore of all ages, and we may be sure were a part of the superstitions of the fifth century. It is strictly in accord with the tradition of Christian apologists that the Pope viewed these spirits as daemonia ("demons"), and seriously regards the possibility that the strange monster of the Lupercalia was a reality. For Augustine the existence of Sylvanos et Panes, and their relations with women, is a matter proved by indubitable testimony.34 Furthermore, he follows Varro in believing that men have p65been transformed into wolves in the rites of the Arcadian Pan Lycaeus, from whose mysteries the Roman Luperci take their origin.35

Christians believed that these demons were wholly evil, and such may well have been the view even of those members of Gelasius' flock who desired to continue the superstitious practices. The issue was not as to the reality of the demons, but as to whether evils should be averted by demon-worship and magic arts, which were regarded as one and the same thing.36

3. The Luperci. — The most familiar feature of the Lupercalia was the spectacle of the nude Luperci running to and fro, a feature that is noted in the letter of Gelasius. But it seems that the runners to whom the senators would intrust the ritual were not of the rank chosen in antiquity. In Caesar's time noble youths and magistrates felt no shame in playing the part, even the consul Antony appearing conspicuously in 44 B.C.37 Under Augustus, membership in the two colleges of Luperci was awarded, as a mark of honor, to selected youths of equestrian rank.38 The Christian nobles of Gelasius' time, however, would commit the function to men of the lowest class — "ad viles trivialesque personas, abiectos et infimos"; they are not even given the name Luperci.39

To this part of their proposal the Pope makes a taunting reply: such a performance is not the ancient rite at all, and would have no efficacy whatever. "If you assert that this rite has salutary force, celebrate it yourselves in the ancestral fashion; run nude yourselves that you may properly carry out the mockery!" Their unwillingness to do so was a confession that it was a shameful institution in which no Christian of dignity could engage.40

The degradation of the ritual is also referred to as a matter of the past. The Pope maintained that the adherents of the superstition had corrupted the cult in having it performed by improper persons, so that now, if anything was to be done, a complete renewal (instauratio) was needed to repair matters.41

p66 When Gratian in 382 expropriated the property and income of the pagan priesthoods, revoked their immunities, and forbade all future gifts,42 the structure of the ancient priestly colleges must have rapidly collapsed. The prohibition of pagan-worship made their profession illegal,43 and as outlaws they were driven from the metropolitan cities.44 All this rendered the continuance of the equestrian colleges of Luperci quite out of the question. Popular superstition led to the continuance of some form of the rite; but persons of standing were reluctant to make the required display, and left that task to the vulgar.

4. The songs. — As to the sportive behavior of the performers, Gelasius' letter gives a suggestion of unique interest. It appears that a minister of the church had been guilty of adultery, and the same senators that urged the continuance of the Lupercalia demanded also that an example be made of the offending cleric.45 Now the connection between the two demands is not explicitly stated, but it seems implied that the offender was to be humiliated by having his crime made the subject of public jesting at the Lupercalia. That festival is characterized as a matter of jesting and vile songs ("ludibrii et cantilenarum turpium"), a religious observance which is celebrated by remarks of obscenity and of crimes ("quae obscenitatum et flagitiorum vocibus celebratur"). Its defenders argued that by carrying out this practice and publishing the misdeeds of everyone ("haec agendo et facinora uniuscuiusque vulgando"), men were deterred from such deeds and checked by shame, fearing that they would become the subject of public song ("ne de his publica voce cantetur"). The only misdeeds mentioned are those of the guilty cleric.

The Pope replies that such a performance rather destroys shame and suggests criminal conduct. Jesting serves not to repress evil but as an occasion for merrymaking. One is actually affording a service to such a religion in committing the misdeeds which may be taken as the subjects of song. Thus the festival, like the whole pagan system, is grossly immoral.46

p67 The sportive license of the Lupercalia is frequently mentioned in the classical literature,47 but without referring to the subject matter of jests. When merrymaking takes the form of obscene verses, it is natural that these are made use of to lampoon anyone who appears a suitable target. The abuses thus growing out of the licentious Fescennine verses led to legal prohibitions.48

The licentious character of the pagan festivals is constantly attacked by the Christian apologists, and, we may be sure, was dear to the pagans. An opportunity such as was here afforded to make merry at the expense of a Christian minister would appeal strongly to those who loved the old superstitions, and would meet with a most spirited resistance on the part of the church.

5. The sacrifices. — The protest of senators was made because propitiatory sacrifice was not being made to the February god ("quia deo Februario non litetur"), a phrase also used by the Pope to describe the sacrifice of olden times.49 The word litare means to sacrifice, or to propitiate by means of sacrifice, and is regularly applied to offerings of victims, incense, or sacrificial meal. In a transferred sense it may mean "propitiate, appease." Thus in the Vulgate it is used of propitiating God by a life of righteousness,50 in Tertullian of reverence to God.51 The letter of Gelasius gives no clue as to whether the February god was to be propitiated by the ancient sacrifice of goats, dog, and mola salsa, or by other means.

On the one hand, the goat-sacrifice and the skins of the slaughtered animals played such an essential part in the festival that they would seem quite inseparable from it, especially since the god himself remained monstrum pecudis hominisque mixtura compositum. On the other, this long continuance of animal sacrifice, which was the central object of Christian attack, seems incredible. A law of 392, for example, distinguished between the immolation of a victim or consulting of entrails, as crimes punishable by death; and other acts, such as offering incense, setting up altars, etc., as punishable by a fine.52

p68 The bishops and clergy were everywhere active in promoting the enforcement of the laws, and it is difficult to believe that the bloody sacrifice was annually and publicly performed in Christian Rome, the seat of apostolic authority. If the animals were still slaughtered in Gelasius' day, we should expect him to denounce that abomination while pointing out, as he does, the inconsistency of the rite with the Christian profession.

In defense of the performance it was urged that it was a mere shadow (imago) of the ancient pagan festival. The Pope agrees, but replies that if the genuine ceremony, performed ritu integro, was worthless, how much more so the shadow!53 The changes referred to in these words include the matter of the selection of the runners, but the words are more appropriate if applying to more extensive changes, such as the suppression of the animal sacrifice.

One passage of doubtful text may have a bearing on this question. According to the MS the Pope challenges the nobles, "ipsi cum *ridiculo* nudi discurrite."54 Guenther offers the emendation resticulo, a rare word found in the Digest and in Ambrose.55 If this conjecture is right, it would mean that the runners carried cords instead of the ancient goat-skin thongs, and would imply that the sacrifice had ceased.

6. The flagellation. — Some change had occurred in the scourging inflicted by the runners, since this, like the running of the nobles, is described as a thing of the past. "Apud illos enim nobiles ipsi currebant et matronae nudato publice corpore vapulabant."56 Nowhere else is it said that matrons bared their bodies to the scourge. In the time of Juvenal and Plutarch women offered the palms of their hands, like children in school.57 Ovid, however, in describing the origin of this practice, says the girls were bidden to offer their backs to be beaten.58 Gelasius, as we have noted, cites Livy as to the occasion when this feature of the ritual was instituted, and must owe his knowledge of the exposure of the body by the matrons to the same, or a similar, source. It is altogether likely that such a rude practice would give way, and be replaced by that described as usual in classical times.

p69 It is not stated whether the flagellation was now entirely a thing of the past or only modified. The balanced phrases nobiles currebant, matronae vapulabant may indicate that the women of rank, like men of similar station, no longer took part in the ritual, but left it to the lower class.

The evidence, then, as to the Lupercalia at this late date shows that it was a performance of the superstitious Christian mob. They thought of it as a purificatory rite by which evils might be averted from the state, its benefits even extending to outlying portions of Italy. The demon to be propitiated was of half-animal form, deriving its name Februarius from the month of purification. But, though the rites retained the name of "Lupercalia," they were considerably altered. Nude runners, not the ancient and honored Luperci, ran to and fro, singing sportive verses in which conspicuous scandals might be aired for the amusement of the people the humiliation of the offender. As to the other practices of the day we have no complete evidence, and may suspect that they had suffered radical modification at the hands of the several Christian generations through which they had passed.

Some of the nobles shared the popular superstition, and wished to gratify the popular taste, though they had no inclination to humiliate themselves by becoming the performers in the entertainment.

The Pope was himself not entirely free from the superstition, but was none the less firm in his determination to stamp out the last remnants of demon-worship. That worship appeared in a typically indecent form, such as aroused the ire of the Christian moralists from St. Paul to St. Augustine. It now fell to the lot of Pope Gelasius to complete the work of Christian teachers and lawmakers, and declare that no one baptized, no Christian, should be defiled by the pagan rites.



Posted by Professorburton at 12:45 AM CST
Tuesday, 14 February 2012
Lupercalia: A Roman Fertility Festival
Topic: Roman Religion

Between February 13 and 15 on the Roman calendar, the Romans celebrated a festival in honor of the god Lupercus called Lupercalia.  This fertility festival eventually spread throught the Mediterranean and Lupercus came to be identified with the god Pan.  As Greco-Roman culture formed a backdrop to the New Testamentl world, a blurb on the subject is timely.  Here is an entry by classicist William Smith.

LUPERCALIA, one of the most ancient Roman festivals, which was celebrated every year in honour of Lupercus, the god of fertility. All the ceremonies with which it was held, and all we know of its history, shows that it was originally a shepherd-festival (Plut. Caes. 61). Hence its introduction at Rome was connected with the names of Romulus and Remus, the kings of shepherds. Greek writers and their followers among the Romans represent it as a festival of Pan, and ascribe its introduction to the Arcadian Evander. This misrepresentation arose partly from the desire of these writers to identify the Roman divinities with those of Greece, and partly from its rude and almost savage ceremonies, which certainly are a proof that the festival must have originated in the remotest antiquity. The festival was held every year, on the 15th of February, in the Lupercal, where Romulus and Remus were said to have been nurtured by the she-wolf; the place contained an altar and a grove sacred to the god Lupercus (Aurel. Vict. de Orig. Gent. Rom. 22; Ovid. Fast. II.267). Here the Luperci assembled on the day of the Lupercalia, and sacrificed to the god goats and young dogs, which animals are remarkable for their strong sexual instinct, and thus were appropriate sacrifices to the god of fertility (Plut. Rom. 21; Servius ad Aen. VIII.343). Two youths of noble birth were then led to the Luperci, and one of the latter touched their foreheads with a sword dipped in the blood of the victims; other Luperci immediately after wiped off the bloody spots with wool dipped in milk. Hereupon the two youths were obliged to break out into a shout of laughter. This ceremony was probably a symbolical purification of the shepherds. After the sacrifice was over, the Luperci partook of a meal, at which they were plentifully supplied with wine (Val. Max. II.2.9). They then cut the skins of the goats which they had sacrificed, into pieces; with some of which they covered parts of their body in imitation of the god Lupercus, who was represented half naked and half covered with goat-skin. The other pieces of the skins they cut into thongs, and holding them in their hands they ran through the streets of the city, touching or striking with them all persons whom they met in their way, and especially women, who even used to come forward voluntarily for the purpose, since they believed that this ceremony rendered them fruitful, and procured them an easy delivery in childbearing. This act of running about with thongs of goat-skin was a symbolic purification of the land, and that of touching persons a purification of men, for the words by which this act is designated are februare and lustrare (Ovid. Fast. II.31; Fest. s.v. Februarius). The goat-skin itself was called februum, the festive day dies februata, the month in which it occurred Februarius, and the god himself Februus.

The act of purifying and fertilizing, which, as we have seen, was applied to women, was without doubt originally applied to the flocks, and to the people of the city on the Palatine (Varro, de Ling. Lat. V. p60, Bip.). Festus (s.v. Crepos) says that the Luperci were also called crepi or creppi, from their striking with goatskins (a crepitu pellicularum), but it is more probable that the name crepi was derived from crepa, which was the ancient name for goat (Fest. s.v. Caprae).

The festival of the Lupercalia, though it necessarily lost its original import at the time when the Romans were no longer a nation of shepherds, was yet always observed in commemoration of the founders of the city. Antonius, in his consulship, was one of the Luperci, and not only ran with them half-naked and covered with pieces of goat-skin through the city, but even addressed the people in the forum in this rude attire (Plut. Caes. 61). After the time of Caesar, however, the Lupercalia seem to have been neglected, for Augustus is said to have restored it (Suet. Aug. 31), but he forbade youths (imberbes) to take part in the running. The festival was henceforth celebrated regularly down to the time of the emperor Anastasius. Lupercalia were also celebrated in other towns of Italy and Gaul, for Luperci are mentioned in inscriptions of Velitrae, Praeneste, Nemausus, and other places (Orelli, Inscr. n2251, &c.). (Cf. Luperci; and Hartung, Die Relig. der Römer, vol. II p176, &c.).

Posted by Professorburton at 9:27 PM CST
Saturday, 11 February 2012
Paraders of the Lost Arks:: Let's Look for Them......But not Like That
Topic: Archaeology

I read articles with some frequency about the "archaeological" pursuit of Biblical mysteries.  By mysteries I mean the most elusive of artifacts mentioned in the Biblical narrative--the "biggies": Noah's Ark, the Ark of the Covenant, the Ephod, etc.  While they remain elusive (depending on who you read or talk to) to this day, the pursuit of such artifacts is no less valid than other legitimate scholarly pursuits. We may never find them, but the search for them can yield valuable discoveries in their own right.  However, the search for these items has been plagued by sensationalism and no small amount of over-romanticizing.  Worse yet, many of the "expeditions" sent out into the field are comprised of very few Biblical scholars or archaeologists, and more often than not, a train of novices who have signed up for nothing more than a trip to these exotic locales.

Avocational scholars of all kinds have historically been involved in some of the great discoveries of the last 200 years. Einstein was a patent clerk, Frank Calvert was a diplomat, and many archaeologists were surveyors and soldiers.  Most early archaeologists, for instance, were avocational because there was no "archaeology" as we know unitl the mid-19th century.  Even today many avocational scholars make significant contributions. 

So, I am not demeaning avocationals--I work with them regularly.  What I question, in may of the searches for the arks, is "what is your audience?"  "Is it a readership you can exploit, or is it for the sake of knowledge?"  What we need is a revamping of the search for these artifacts.  New blood, a new set of eyes, and an interdisciplinary approach.  And by all means, we need enunciation of a clear research design.  It seems to me that many of the "expeditions" are conducted willy-nilly with the discovery of pieces of petrified wood qualifying as "proof" of Noah's ark. Anyone who has plied their training and talents to Biblical problems of even considerably more recent provenience will tell you it is a SLOW process .Historians spend hours in libraries, readining--archaeologists devote weeks, months, years in the field excavating.  In the big picture, we often contribute partial solutions to a large over-arching question.

The problem with expeditions for Biblical mysteries like the arks is that searches should include professional scholars in addition to avocationals.  No, they must include professionals.  They need the people who understand the lanugage of science, not to downplay the wonder of a potential discovery, but to make finds digestible to a wider audience and demonstrate that respectful and professional approaches to these very interesting questions about humanity are employed.

By all means, let's keep looking.  But we need a complete overhaul of the approach.  We need people who have no need for sensationalism.  For goodness' sake, don't let sensational claims overshadow the very tanigble(and no less interesting) gains made in the field by archaeologists working in the Holy Land today.  Who would have thought we would ever find a potsherd with Goliath's name inscribed on it (from Tel es-Safi)?  The scientist in me offers this commentary on such finds.......WOW!!!!!!!

Your Friendly Neighborhood PhD

Posted by Professorburton at 5:40 PM CST
Thursday, 9 February 2012
Ancient Astronaut Theorists
Topic: Giants

Greetings one and all.  I'm sure that a lot of you who frequent my page are familiar with the programs on educational channels about ancient astronauts.  The premise of most of these is that the earth has been visited in the antique and prehistoric past by ancient aliens.  These guys allegedly founded human civilizations and possibly even created us, according to devotees.  So goes the "ancient astronaut" hypothesis.  It was first popularized by Erik von Daniken in the late 1960s, and perpetuated by the likes of Zechariah Sitchin in recent decades.  Neither of these individuals had the training or expertise to attack the research problems they claimed to have pursued to their correct ends.  Shoddy work all around.

Sitchin claimed to be adept in reading ancient Sumerian and other ancient Near Eastern languages, but never produced his credentials--ever--to anyone.  His contentions, while interesting, are so much bunk when held under the lens of scholastic scrutiny. 

Were we "visited" in the prehistoric past?  Yes.  Were they the aliens that von Daniken, Sitchin, and their ilk claim?  No--something much worse.

For a thorough and excellent treatise on the embarassing shortcomings of Sitchin, click the link below.  Dr. Michael Heiser wrote an open letter to Sitchin asking  him to produce his credentials and support his linguistic arguments.  Sitchin never answered but now one of his followers has.  Read Heiser's (who is a well-respected Semitic Language scholar) remarks in black and the yellow notes, and the Sitchinite's feeble attempts in red.


Posted by Professorburton at 1:56 AM CST
Updated: Thursday, 9 February 2012 2:07 AM CST
Sunday, 23 October 2011
Topic: Witchcraft

Witchcraft is a very debated word, particularly today.  Anthropologically speaking, it refers to an individual who practices a spirituality converse to accepted religious behavior in a given society.  Examples of this surely exist in the Bible.  Here are some terms and references to help you in your study.

Witch Occurs only in Exo 22:18, as the rendering of mekhashshepheh, the feminine form of the word, meaning "enchantress" (R.V., "sorceress"), and in Deu 18:10, as the rendering of mekhashshepheth, the masculine form of the word, meaning "enchanter."

 Witchcraft (Sa1 15:23; Kg2 9:22; Ch2 33:6; Mic 5:12; Nah 3:4; Gal 5:20). In the popular sense of the word no mention is made either of witches or of witchcraft in Scripture. The "witch of En-dor" (1 Sam. 28) was a necromancer, i.e., one who feigned to hold converse with the dead. The damsel with "a spirit of divination" (Act 16:16) was possessed by an evil spirit, or, as the words are literally rendered, "having a spirit, a pithon." The reference is to the heathen god Apollo, who was regarded as the god of prophecy.

Divination Of false prophets (Deu 18:10, Deu 18:14; Mic 3:6, Mic 3:7, Mic 3:11), of necromancers (Sa1 28:8), of the Philistine priests and diviners (Sa1 6:2), of Balaam (Jos 13:22). Three kinds of divination are mentioned in Eze 21:21, by arrows, consulting with images (the teraphim), and by examining the entrails of animals sacrificed. The practice of this art seems to have been encouraged in ancient Egypt. Diviners also abounded among the aborigines of Canaan and the Philistines (Isa 2:6; 1 Sam. 28). At a later period multitudes of magicians poured from Chaldea and Arabia into the land of Israel, and pursued their occupations (Isa 8:19; Kg2 21:6; Ch2 33:6). This superstition widely spread, and in the time of the apostles there were "vagabond Jews, exorcists" (Act 19:13), and men like Simon Magus (Act 8:9), Bar-jesus (Act 13:6, Act 13:8), and other jugglers and impostors (Act 19:19; Ti2 3:13). Every species and degree of this superstition was strictly forbidden by the law of Moses (Exo 22:18; Lev 19:26, Lev 19:31; Lev 20:27; Deu 18:10, Deu 18:11). But beyond these various forms of superstition, there are instances of divination on record in the Scriptures by which God was pleased to make known his will. (1.) There was divination by lot, by which, when resorted to in matters of moment, and with solemnity, God intimated his will (Jos 7:13). The land of Canaan was divided by lot (Num 26:55, Num 26:56); Achan's guilt was detected (Jos 7:16), Saul was elected king (Sa1 10:20, Sa1 10:21), and Matthias chosen to the apostleship, by the solemn lot (Act 1:26). It was thus also that the scape-goat was determined (Lev 16:8). (2.) There was divination by dreams (Gen 20:6; Deu 13:1, Deu 13:3; Jdg 7:13, Jdg 7:15; Mat 1:20; Mat 2:12, Mat 2:13, Mat 2:19, Mat 2:22). This is illustrated in the history of Joseph (Gen 41:25) and of Daniel (Dan 2:27; Dan 4:19). (3.) By divine appointment there was also divination by the Urim and Thummim (Num 27:21), and by the ephod. (4.) God was pleased sometimes to vouchsafe direct vocal communications to men (Deu 34:10; Exo 3:4; Exo 4:3; Deu 4:14, Deu 4:15; Kg1 19:12). He also communed with men from above the mercy-seat (Exo 25:22), and at the door of the tabernacle (Exo 29:42, Exo 29:43). (5.) Through his prophets God revealed himself, and gave intimations of his will (Kg2 13:17; Jer 51:63, Jer 51:64).

Necromancer (Deu 15:11), i.e., "one who interrogates the dead," as the word literally means, with the view of discovering the secrets of futurity (Compare Sa1 28:7). 

Sorcerer From the Latin sortiarius , one who casts lots, or one who tells the lot of others. In Dan 2:2 it is the rendering of the Hebrew mekhashphim, i.e., mutterers, men who professed to have power with evil spirits. The practice of sorcery exposed to severest punishment (Mal 3:5; Rev 21:8; Rev 22:15).  

Posted by Professorburton at 4:04 PM CDT
Thursday, 14 July 2011
Topic: Cities

More information on the excavation of the hometown of Goliath, the city of Gath. 


Posted by Professorburton at 10:59 PM CDT

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