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Homilies on the Transfiguration for the Feast of the Transfiguration

This is what we celebrate in our feast today, then: the divinization of nature; its change for the better; the displacement and ascent of what conforms to nature, towards what is above nature. (St. Andrew of Crete, On the Transfiguration of Christ Our Lord, PG 97.932)

 

Tomorrow, August 6th, is the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I wanted to suggest, were you looking for something to read on the Transfiguration, Fr. Brian Daley, SJ’s recently published, Light on the Mountain: Greek Patristic and Byzantine Homilies on the Transfiguration of the Lord, published by St. Vladimir’s in their Popular Patristics Series. Fr. Daley translates 25 homilies spanning from Origen (d. 254) to Gregory Palamas (d. 1359).  Other notable authors include one of my favorites, Andrew of Crete (whose works exist in no critical editions as of yet – hint hint for anyone interested), Leontius of Byzantium (a figure on whom Fr. Daley did his D.Phil thesis at Oxford), Cyril of Alexandria, John Chrysostom, and someone else near and dear to my heart, John of Damascus.

Just for due diligence, Fr. Daley is a professor of mine at Notre Dame and I worked as his TA last year. Even if he were not, however, I would recommend the volume. I read his similar volume on the homilies on the Dormition of Mary and was there introduced to Andrew of Crete. I think this volume has a comparable value in that it introduces one to Christian writers who may have been previously unknown.  So, go read them!

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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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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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Noah’s First Attempt

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Translations of the new Origen homilies

A friend of mine, Alex Poulos, a soon-to-be graduate student in the Greek and Latin program at Catholic University is working his way through the recently discovered Origen homilies. Hop on over to his blog and check out his stuff.

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