Augustine, Donatists, and “Israels”

I am currently revising a paper I hope to send off for publication soon on Augustine’s homilies on 1 John and the Donatists.  The Donatists had arisen after persecutions in N. Africa and the crux of their theology was about purity. Had one’s Bishop turned over the Scriptures (or some other holy books – cf. the letter of Mensurius to Secundus of Tigisis where he admits he only turned over heretical books, not Scripture – CSEL 53.74) or relented in their faith during Roman persecutions, they were considered ritually impure, and thus all sacramental efficacy had been removed from them. They were no longer able to baptize, to confect the Eucharist, etc. (cf. Cyprian’s Epistula 67 – the Donatists weren’t inventing this whole-cloth). 

 

The Donatists had a militant wing called the ‘Circumcellions’ – so named because they hung out circum cellas (around the shrines of the martyrs). Augustine, after having cited Mt. 7.16 (“By their works you will know them.”), writes in his 10th Enarratio en Psalmos: 

uideo plane mira opera, quotidianas uiolentias circumcellionum sub episcopis et presbyteris ducibus circumquaque uolitare, et terribiles fustes Israeles uocare.

 

Indeed I see incredible works, the daily violent acts of the Circumcellions conducted everywhere under the leadership of their bishops and priests – and they call their terrible clubs, “Israels.” 

 

That is, the Circumcellions would “educate” their Catholic foes with these cudgels which they called “Israels.” Possidius, Augustine’s often-ignored biographer, records in the 12th chapter of the Vita Augustini that Augustine had almost been ambushed by these Circumcellions, but had, by providence, taken a different road and thus their ambush was foiled. Augustine also mentions this in a recently-discovered work, Contra Paganos (§45). Possidius himself had not been so lucky and was beaten by them, though he survived. 

At any rate, I can’t but help see this as a little bit of humor on the part of the Donatists that they called their weapons “Israels.” I think it also demonstrates a couple of things: 1) Theology matters. Accounts of early Christianity which downplay this (and there are more than a few) seem to miss the point. Theology was so pervasive that even when making a joke, the Donatists turned to Scripture. 2) The ancients had wicked senses of humor, just like moderns. 

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Learn French and German Online

One of the pieces of advice I give most frequently to those applying to Notre Dame in particular and Ph.D programs in general is that they ought to have as solid of a foundation as possible with their languages before applying. The Early Christian Studies program at ND afforded us a good deal of flexibility and emphasized the necessity of language work. But not only are the ancient languages incredibly important, but the modern research ones as well.

I’ve met some people who study just enough to pass a language exam and then forget the language almost entirely. It’s understandable – you get to the Ph.D program, you’re inundated with courses, you’re trying to keep up your ancient languages – when are you supposed to fit in French and German? If you’re reading this and not yet in a Ph.D program, start now. If you’re in a Ph.D program, start now.

One thing I’ve found incredibly helpful is Duolingo.com. It’s fun, it’s simple, and it will help you practice your languages. My suggestion is to spend 15-30 mins a day on each language. After getting to the more advanced stages, start reading articles in French and German journals in your field. Start learning the field-specific vocab.If you can keep up your German and French and actually use it to read modern scholarship, you will be way ahead of the pack.

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Notre Dame and Comprehensive Exams

Another year of coursework has gone by for me and assuming I haven’t failed any classes this semester, this will be  my final semester of coursework at Notre Dame. When I came to Notre Dame as an M.A. student in the Early Christian Studies  program, my work had been mostly philological and literary. Having had several years here, I’ve had the opportunity to do more Theological work. I’m glad to have both sides.

This past year I took some interesting courses:

Fall:
Eschatology with Cyril O’Regan
12th Century Cistercians with Ann Astell
Christology of Thomas Aquinas with Joseph Wawrykow

Spring:
Byzantine Philosophy with Stephen Gersh
Theology of John Henry Newman with Cyril O’Regan
Origen with John Cavadini

Now that I’m out of coursework and into the third year, I can focus on my comprehensive exams. While some schools, like the University of Chicago, have set reading lists, we do things a little differently at ND.

Instead of having reading lists on which we are examined, we come up with 10 question topics. How this plays out depends upon one’s sub-field (Systematics, Liturgical Studies, etc). In mine (History of Christianity), the questions break down as follows:

4 Questions in Major Historical Period (Patristics for me)

3 Questions in Minor Historical Period (Medieval)

3 Questions in Minor Area (Systematic Theology)

(Once I have my topics approved by my advisor, I’ll post those too)

Our topics are due in September, but I’m hoping to have mine turned in by late July so I can get a head start. I’m excited to fill in some gaps in my knowledge and strengthen some of the interests I’ve developed over the years. The third year is often seen by ND students as one of the best years in the Ph.D program because your primary responsibility is to read all the time. I think this is what I envisioned graduate studies would be anyway – long hours spent in a coffee shop, pouring over books and soaking up knowledge like an academic sponge. Your time in coursework is somewhat like that, but the pressure of papers and producing academic work can suck the fun out of reading pretty quickly.

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The Agnus Dei Explained

Though the majority of Catholics in America attend Masses almost entirely in English, the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) is something that is often sung in Latin. If you have ever wondered what each word means in the song, here you go:

Agnus     Dei           qui                        tollis                        peccata             mundi

Lamb   of God      (you)who            takes away                   the sins           of the world

miserere                        nobis

have mercy                    on us                          (x 2)

Agnus     Dei           qui                        tollis                        peccata             mundi

Lamb   of God      (you)who            takes away                   the sins           of the world

dona             nobis                pacem

grant             to us                 peace

The initial line comes from John 1.29 where John the Baptizer says, “Ἴδε ὁ ἀμνὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ὁ αἴρων τὴν ἀμαρτίαν τοῦ κόσμου” – Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

A few grammatical notes, for those interested:

qui is a relative pronoun and it means “who”. It is most often used with 3rd singular verbs, just like in English. “I saw a man who loves ice cream.” However, Latin will sometimes use it with a 2nd singular verb, which here is tollis (you take away/lift up/raise/destroy). So it’s “you who takes away the sins”.

miserere is an imperative, a command. “Have mercy”.

dona likewise is an imperative. “grant” or “give.” You can see it is related to the word “donation.”

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John Chrysostom: On the Priesthood 1.4

Here’s my next little chunk of Chrysostom’s “On the Priesthood.” Here he’s relating what his mother said in response to him wanting to live a communal life with a friend of his. I haven’t done the whole of her response, just this little part.

Greek Text:

Ἐπειδὴ γὰρ ᾔσθετοταῦτα βουλευόμενον, λαβοῦσά με τῆς δεξιᾶς, εἰσήγαγεν εἰς τὸν ἀποτεταγμένον οἶκον αὐτῇ καὶ καθίσασα πλησίον ἐπὶ τῆς εὐνῆς ἧς ἡμᾶς ὤδινε, πηγάς τε ἠφίει δακρύων καὶ τῶν δακρύων ἐλεεινότερα προσετίθη τὰ ῥήματα, τοιαῦτα πρὸς ἡμᾶς ἀποδυρομένη. Ἐγώ, παιδίον, φησί, τῆς ἀρετῆς τοῦ πατρὸς τοῦ σοῦ οὐκ ἀφείθην ἀπολαῦσαι ἐπὶ πολύ,τῷ Θεῷ τοῦτο δοκοῦν· τὰς γὰρ ὠδῖνας τὰς ἐπὶ σοὶ διαδεξάμενος ὁ θάνατος ἐκείνου, σοὶμὲν ὀρφανίαν, ἐμοὶ δὲ χηρείαν ἐπέστησεν ἄωρον καὶ τὰ τῆς χηρείας δεινὰ ἃ μόναι αἱ παθοῦσαι δύναιντ’ ἂν εἰδέναι καλῶς. Λόγος γὰρ οὐδεὶς ἂν ἐφίκοιτο τοῦ χειμῶνος
ἐκείνου καὶ τοῦ κλύδωνος ὃν ὑφίσταται κόρη, ἄρτι μὲν τῆς πατρῴας οἰκίας προελθοῦσα
καὶ πραγμάτων ἄπειρος οὖσα, ἐξαίφνης δὲ πένθει τε ἀσχέτῳ βαλλομένη καὶ ἀναγκαζομένη φροντίδων καὶ τῆς ἡλικίας καὶ τῆς φύσεως ἀνέχεσθαι μειζόνων. Δεῖ γάρ, οἶμαι, ῥαθυμίας τε οἰκετῶν ἐπιστρέφειν καὶ κακουργίας παρατηρεῖν, συγγενῶν ἀποκρούεσθαι ἐπιβουλάς, τῶν τὰ δημόσια εἰσπραττόντων τὰς ἐπηρείας καὶ τὴν ἀπήνειαν ἐν ταῖς τῶν εἰσφορῶν καταβολαῖς φέρειν γενναίως.

My translation:

For when she perceived that I was deliberating these things,  seizing me by the right hand, she led me into her own house and sat down near me upon the bed where she gave birth to me,  she sent forth streams of tears and she put forward words more pitiable than her tears, lamenting these things concerning us. She said, “I, child, was not given to enjoy the virtue of your father for long, for this seemed good to God.  His death was made manifest during the birth pangs of your birth, setting upon you orphanhood and me untimely widowhood, and also terrible things of widowhood, which only those who have suffered them are able to know well.  For there is no word suitable to describe that storm and wave which a young woman undertakes,  having just left the home of her parents and being inexperienced in business matters,  she is instantaneously cast down into unmanageable grief and forced to uphold responsibilities greater than her age and nature should allow.  For it is necessary, I say, for her to set right the laziness of the slaves and to watch closely their wickedness,  to drive away the schemes of family, to bear nobly the tax collectors and the abuses and the rudeness in the paying of taxes…”

Issues:

Again, I felt like this was a pretty straightforward text as far as the Greek goes. This piece is doubly interesting in what it tells us about women and slaves according to Chrysostom. I thought it was intriguing that Chrysostom records his own mother saying that slaves are indifferent (ῥαθυμίας) and are bad workers or even wicked (κακουργίας). I imagine that if he found these to be embarrassing, he wouldn’t have included them, though I could be wrong. I haven’t read enough Chrysostom to see if he ever says anything bad about his mother’s view towards slaves.

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σιγησάτω πᾶσα σάρξ βροτεία

From the liturgy of St. James:

Σιγησάτω πᾶσα σάρξ βροτεία,

καὶ στήτω μετὰ φόβου καὶ τρόμου,

καὶ μηδὲν γήϊνον ἐν ἑαυτῇ λογιζέσθω·

ὁ γὰρ Βασιλευς τῶν βασιλευόντων,

καὶ Κύριος τῶν κυριευόντων,

προσέρχεται σφαγιασθῆναι,

καὶ δοθῆναι εἰς βρῶσιν τοῖς πιστοῖς·

προηγοῦνται δὲ τούτου,

οἱ χοροὶ τῶν Ἀγγέλων,

μετὰ πάσης  ρχῆς καὶ ἐξουσίας,

τὰ πολυόμματα Χερουβίμ,

καὶ τὰ ἑξαπτέρυγα Σεραφίμ,

τὰς ὄψεις καλύπτοντα,

καὶ βοῶντα τὸν ὕμνον·

Ἀλληλούϊα, Ἀλληλούϊα, Ἀλληλούϊα.

 

Let all mortal flesh keep silent

And let it stand with fear and trembling

And let it consider nothing earthly in itself

 

For the King of Kings

And the Lord of Lords

Comes to be sacrificed

And to be given to the faithful for eating

 

The choruses of the angels precedes this

With all rule and authority,

The many-eyed Cherubim

And the six-winged Seraphim,

Concealing their faces,

And singing the hymn:

“Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”

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John Chrysostom: On the Priesthood 1.3

I returned from Boston yesterday and found myself sitting in a coffee shop this morning, looking forward to reading a little more of Chrysostom in Greek. I think I’m getting the “tempo” of his Greek after having read a little of him now.

Greek Text:

Πλὴν  ἀλλ’  ἀγαθός τε ὢν καὶ πολλοῦ τὴν ἡμετέραν τιμώμενος φιλίαν, ἁπάντων ἑαυτὸν ἀποστήσας τῶν ἄλλων, ἡμῖν τὸν ἅπαντα χρόνον συνῆν, ἐπιθυμῶν μὲν τούτου καὶ πρότερον, ὅπερ δὲ ἔφην, ὑπὸ τῆς ἡμετέρας κωλυόμενος ῥαθυμίας. Οὐ γὰρ ἦν τὸν ἐν τῷ δικαστηρίῳ προσεδρεύοντα καὶ περὶ τὰς ἐν τῇ σκηνῇ τέρψεις ἐπτοημένον συγγίνεσθαι πολλάκις τῷ βίβλοις προσηλωμένῳ καὶ μηδὲ εἰς  γορὰν ἐμβαλόντι ποτέ. Διὰ τοῦτο πρότερον διειργόμενος, ἐπειδή ποτε ἡμᾶς ἔλαβεν εἰς τὴν αὐτὴν τοῦ βίου κατάστασιν, ἀθρόως ἣν πάλαι ὤδινεν ἐπιθυμίαν ἀπέτεκε τότε καὶ οὐδὲ τὸ βραχύτατον τῆς ἡμέρας ἡμᾶς ἀπολιμπάνειν ἠνείχετο μέρος, διετέλει τε παρακαλῶν ἵνα τὴν οἰκίαν ἀφέντες ἕκαστος τὴν ἑαυτοῦ κοινὴν ἀμφότεροι τὴν οἴκησιν ἔχοιμεν· καὶ ἔπεισε καὶ τὸ πρᾶγμα ἦν ἐν χερσίν. Ἀλλά με αἱ συνεχεῖς τῆς μητρὸς ἐπῳδαὶ διεκώλυσαν δοῦναι ταύτην ἐκείνῳ τὴν χάριν, μᾶλλον δὲ λαβεῖν ταύτην παρ’ ἐκείνου τὴν δωρεάν.

 

My translation:

In addition to being a better man than most, and honoring our friendship, he separated himself from all the others, he associated with us all the time, wishing for how it was before – but just as I said before, he was hindered by our indifference.  For it was not possible for the one regularly attending the law court and excited by the delights of the stage to associate with the one ever fastened to books and never going into the market.  After this was removed, and when he had received us into his state of life, he all at once brought forth the desire which he had long anguished over, and he could not stand to leave us even for the smallest measure of time, and so he persevered calling on each of us to give up our own home in order that we both might have a common home.  He persuaded me and the matter was in hand. But the continuous wailing of my mother hindered me from giving this kindness to him, or rather to receive this gift from him.

 

Issues:

This was fairly straightforward. I’m getting a little less wooden as I become more comfortable with reading Chrysostom. If you find something you think I’m being a little too loose with or if I’ve just misread Chrysostom entirely, please let me know.

Chrysostom’s use of ὤδινεν and ἀπέτεκε is interesting. ὠδίνω means to be in pains due to childbirth, and τίκτω (from which we get ἀπέτεκε) means to give birth to a child. It’s interesting that Chrysostom uses this sort of language before mentioning his own mother whose “continuous wailing” (αἱ συνεχεῖς ἐπῳδαὶ) hindered Chrysostom. Chrysostom’s biological mother is hindering the birth of his friend’s “child”, the desire for a communal life and Christian friendship.

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