Friday, July 29, 2016

Bonaventure (1221-1274): Most Learned Man of His Age

Fr. John J. Pasquini, Th.D.

Bonaventure is often viewed as the most learned man in history.  He was given the title “Seraphic Doctor”--for his intellectual and spiritual works moved those who read them to angelic heights.
Bonaventure was born in Bagnorea, Italy in 1221.  In 1238 he would join the order founded by the man who cured him from a serious illness, Francis of Assisi. 

As a Franciscan, Bonaventure studied in Paris and would eventually become a professor at the University of Paris. 

At the age of thirty-six he was chosen the General, the leader, of the Franciscan order.  In 1273 he was created a Cardinal and Archbishop of Albano. 

Upon his death, Bonaventure was viewed as the “second founder” of the Franciscan order.  He would take Francis’ spirit and infuse it into an administrative and spiritual infrastructure that would assure the survival and success of the Franciscan order. 

Inspired by Francis, Bonaventure laid the foundation for the Franciscan’s vision of philosophy and theology.  His work The Reduction of All Things to Theology exemplifies this spirit.  Learning was an exploration of God’s creation, of God’s handprint on creation.  To seek knowledge was to seek God, to learn was to love God, to study was to pray to God.  He made it a moral and religious obligation to develop one’s intellectual gifts.

Prayer and a holy life are necessities for coming to the truth.  Otherwise the mind is subject to losing all truth and falling into subjectivism and relativism.  Faith and reason are inseparable.

In 1273, near the end of his earthly journey, Bonaventure was appointed a papal legate to the Council of Lyons which healed the Eastern Schism—at least temporarily.  The Greeks recognized that the Roman Filoque (that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son) was an alternative expression to the Greek view that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. 

Before the end of the council, in 1274, Bonaventure died. Upon his death Pope Innocent V ordered all priests and bishops to offer up Masses for Bonaventure’s soul. 

Bonaventure was holy because he was intelligent, and he was intelligent because he was holy.

It is an interesting aside that Bonaventure’s importance to Catholic Christianity was so great that the French Protestant Huguenots and the French Revolution’s atheist movement would burn and desecrate his body.  

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Albert the Great: Greatest Scientist of the Middle Ages

Fr. John J. Pasquini, Th.D.
Albert the Great has become known as the “Patron of Scientists,” the “Wonder of His Age,” and the “Universal Doctor.” 
Albert was born in Lauingen on the Danube in 1206.  He joined the Dominican friars in 1229 and was sent to study at the great center of learning, Padua.  He was ordained a priest in 1233 and took a professorship post in Cologne. Albert would become a renowned scholar in the sciences and the arts.  His greatest student would be Thomas Aquinas, one of history’s greatest minds.
In 1254 Albert became the Prior Provincial of the German provinces.  In 1260 he was made bishop of Cologne.  In 1262 he resigned from his office as bishop and was assigned in 1263 as the papal nuncio and legate to northern Europe. 

Albert was primarily a scientist, focusing his research on botany, mineralogy, astronomy, physics, chemistry, anthropology and cosmology.  He was a master in the fields of medicine, surgery, and dentistry.  He was a pioneer in the study of the reproduction of species and the physiology of plants.  He wrote extensively on eugenics and pointed out its dangers. He initiated the creation of synthetic versions of natural metals. He wrote about a spherical world in a time when many Europeans thought the world was flat.  His voluminous writings and research laid the foundation for the scientific method—proof by experiment.  Albert, as a scientist, is often viewed as the man who provided the world an encyclopedia of all past knowledge.

Albert’s contribution to philosophy and theology was also groundbreaking.  Prior to Albert, Christianity had a strong Platonic influence.  One of the negative dimensions to Platonism is that it denigrated the value of the material, and in particular the body.  Prior to Albert, Aristotle was primarily viewed as a logician.  Albert would move beyond the field of logic to embrace and Christianize the best of Aristotelian philosophy.  This would provide future theologians such as Thomas Aquinas with a more profound and authentic anthropology, an anthropology that viewed the body and soul as being of equal value.

Albert was also an innovator in the field of moral theology.  It can rightly be claimed that he made moral theology a distinct area of study. Albert understood all moral actions in terms of mitigating or aggravating factors in terms of the bodily and mental health of the person performing the moral act—somewhat revolutionary in such an age.

Albert would carry the Catholic vision that faith and science could never contradict each other and thus were inseparable—being based on the natural law of God’s creation.  If there was any discrepancy between the two, either the faith was not being understood correctly (or had not sufficiently developed doctrinally) or the science was poor.  Truth and reality could not conflict in the areas of faith and science. 

As with every great theologian Albert had a special devotion to Mary, writing more than any other theologian of his period on the dignity of Mary.  He taught and wrote on all aspects of Catholic teaching, from the Mass as “presence” and “sacrifice” to devotion to St. Joseph. 

Near the end of his life in 1274 he participated in the Second Council of Lyons which addressed the conquest of the Holy Land by the Muslims and the division between Eastern and Western Christianity.

Albert died in 1280 in his cell as the monks chanted the Salve Regina. 

Albert’s legacy is that of a teacher, preacher, administrator, arbiter of peace, and the teacher of Thomas Aquinas.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Anthony of Padua (1195-1231): Pen of the Holy Spirit

Fr. John J. Pasquini, Th.D.
Anthony of Padua is known as the “Pen of the Holy Spirit,” the “Doctor of the Gospel,” the “Hammer of Heretics,” and the “Ark of the Covenants.”
Anthony was born in Lisbon, Portugal.  He was known for his holiness, miracles, and teachings.
At the age of fifteen he joined the Augustinian Canons at St. Vincent Outside the Walls.  At the age of seventeen he joined the monastery of the Holy Cross at Coimbra, a center of learning. 
In 1220, at the age of twenty-five, after viewing the remains of five Franciscan friars martyred in Morocco by Muslims, Anthony was inspired to join the friars and become a martyr for the faith.  Instead of becoming a martyr he became ill and was forced to return to Portugal.  Instead of reaching Portugal, he ended up in Sicily.  From there he made his way to a small little hermitage in Monte Paolo near Bologna.
In 1222 Anthony was ordained a priest.  His speaking gifts and his intellect made him an ideal preacher.  The Franciscans assigned him to preach in northern Italy and then France.  At the heart of his fame, as many as 30,000 people came to hear the Franciscan friar preach.  His preaching against the heresy of the Cathari—who believed all flesh was evil—gained him the title of “Hammer of the Heretics.” 
Francis of Assisi would make Anthony his order’s theologian and teacher. He was a master theologian, knowing the New and Old Testament by heart.  Because of his photographic memory Pope Gregory would refer to Anthony as the “Ark of the Covenant,” for just like the Ark, he held the Word of God within him.
Anthony’s teachings are summarized by his surviving sermons on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the infallibility of the pope, the Assumption of Mary, her Immaculate Conception, and her intercessory power as the “door of graces.” 
At the age of thirty-six Anthony became ill, and on his way to the friary in Padua, at the convent of the Poor Clares, he died.

Anthony had the mind of Augustine and the heart of Francis.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153): Arbiter of Christendom

Fr. John J. Pasquini, Th.D.
Bernard was born in Dijon, France to a holy family.  His life and works are exemplified by the titles associated with him—the “Mellifluous Doctor,” the “Oracle of the Twelfth Century,” the “Thaumaturgus [Miracle Worker] of the West,” the “Arbiter of Christendom,” and the “Last of the Fathers.”
Bernard wrote on topics of theology, philosophy, ascetism, and politics.  Most of his writings were sermons and letters.  His few treatises, particularly On the Necessity of Loving God and The Degrees of Humility, have had a lasting influence on future spiritual writers and saints such as Francis of Assisi, Thomas a Kempis, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila. Alphonsus de Liguori, Francis de Sales, and Ignatius of Loyola.  His spirit is particularly seen in Kempis’ Imitation of Christ and Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises.
Bernard joined the abbey of Citeaux at the age of twenty-two, and not yet a priest, became the abbot of the abbey of Clairvaux.  He would become the Cistercian’s order greatest advocate.
Bernard was a great arbiter and advisor of princes, kings, and popes.  He reconciled William, Duke of Aquitaine, and the bishop of Poitiers.  He helped reconcile the king and count of Champagne.  He confronted the errors of Peter Abelard at the Synod of Sens—condemning aspects of his theology, such as his unorthodox understanding of the Trinity.  He stopped the civil war between the people of Metz and the nobles.  He helped to squash the papal schism between Innocent II and Anacletus II—supporting Innocent as the true pope and condemning Anacletus II as an antipope. 
At the command of Pope Eugene III, Bernard was called upon to preach the Second Crusade to free the Holy Land from Moslem incursions.  He preached in France and Germany, attracting many fervent crusaders.  Unfortunately, the Crusade failed and Bernard was blamed for its failure.  He defended himself by pointing out that the Crusades were tainted by the sins, excesses and factional divisions of its leaders. 
In the end, Bernard of Clairvaux was a holy man.  The Liber Miraculorum records hundreds of people that were cured by Bernard.  Many devotions we take for granted were popularized by Bernard—devotions to the Sacred Heart, the Holy Name, St. Joseph and the Guardian Angels. 
As with most saints, he had a profound devotion to Mary and a well-developed Mariology, writing about Mary’s perpetual virginity, her assumption, and her role as the mediatrix of graces. 

Bernard of Clairvaux was a charming personality whose love of God and love of neighbor were the themes of his life.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Anselm, Father of Scholasticism

Fr. John J. Pasquini, Th.D.

Anselm is viewed as the “Father of Scholasticism,” the “Great Marian Doctor,” the “Defender of the Rights of the Church and the See of Peter,” and the “Last of the Patristic Fathers.”
Anselm, a profound and original thinker, a man of piety, gentleness and compassion, paved the way for a Thomas Aquinas and a Duns Scotus.
Anselm was a philosopher and a theologian who dealt with the most profound questions concerning God and man. 
At the age of twenty-six, moving from his native land of Aosta, Italy, Anselm joined the abbey of Bec in France. His desire for learning brought him to the abbey in order to learn from the legendary teacher of philosophy and theology Lanfranc. 
Years later the community would choose Anselm as its prior and in 1078 he was chosen to be abbot. 
In 1093, at the age of 60, while touring the monasteries in England, he was chosen to be the Archbishop of Canterbury. 
As the Archbishop of Canterbury, Anselm withstood kings and fought for justice for all.  He was particularly attentive to secular intrusions and assaults upon the Church.  He struggled with King William Rufus and Henry I over lay investiture and papal primacy.  Anselm was often forced into exile, but always managed to make his way back to England.
As Primate of England Anselm attended the Lateran Council and wrote his classical work Cur Deus Homo (Why God became Man).  This classical work would lay the foundation for future developments in Christology. 
As a writer of letters and treatises his approach to theology and philosophy became a precursor to the Scholastic age.  Scholasticism embodied the motto, “Faith seeking understanding, and understanding seeking faith.” His great works Monologion and Proslogion exemplified the future age of scholasticism.
His greatest legacy to the modern mind is perhaps his ontological argument for the existence of God.  It is perhaps the most hotly debated argument in the history of philosophical arguments on God.  To this day there are those who oppose it and those who support it. 

Finally, as with all the great Doctors of the Church, Anselm had a great love for Mary the Mother of God.  His work paved the way for Duns Scotus and others in explaining the Immaculate Conception and Mary as the Mediatrix of graces.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Peter Damian, Monitor of the Popes (1007-1072)

Peter Damian, known as the “Monitor of the Popes,” was born in Ravenna, Italy and raised by his brother, the Archpriest of Ravenna, Damian.  His brother provided Peter with the best in education and care.  Peter so much appreciated his brother’s love that he adopted Damian as his last name. 

At the age of twenty Peter entered the monastic community and hermitage at Fonte Avellana.  He would serve as an acclaimed teacher and eventually the Prior of the monastery. As a scholar, Peter emphasized the importance of a secular and religious education.  He desired the teaching of grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, music, geometry, astronomy, and the traditional studies of theology, philosophy and canon law. 

In 1057 he would become the bishop and cardinal of Ostia, which would mark the beginning of a distinguished career as the preeminent advisor, legate and settler of disputes for the popes. He was entrusted with settling a dispute between the Abbey of Cluny and the Bishop of Macon in 1063. In 1069 he was sent to Germany to convince Emperor Henry IV to remain married to his wife Bertha.  In 1072 he was sent to Ravenna to reunite its excommunicated inhabitants to the Holy See by encouraging the citizens to reject the schism of Cadalous—an antipope.

Peter was a man of prayer and work, fasting and mortification.  He could at times be fierce in defense of the faith and in rebuking simony and enforcing clerical celibacy—thus gaining for himself the name “Old Jerome.”   He had a great love for the poor and for serving the poor personally—being in many ways a Francis of Assisi prior to Francis.  And his intellectual power and balancing of justice with mercy arguably makes him the Thomas Aquinas of his time.  Like Aquinas, Peter, argued that philosophy should serve theology as “a servant serves her mistress.”  Ironically, this phrase first cited by Peter would later be attributed to Aquinas.

Peter had a deep Mariology accentuating Mary’s intercessory power.  This accent on the intercessory nature of Mary would influence his ecclesiology, his view of the Church as a Mystical Body, a communion between the Church on earth, in purgatory, and in heaven. It is perhaps for this reason that Peter enjoyed writing about the lives of the saints and our communion with them.   

Peter Damian was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1828.  

Friday, July 8, 2016

John Damascene (676-749): The Aquinas of the East

Fr. John J. Pasquini, Th.D.

John Damascene is often referred to as the “Doctor of Christian Art,” the “champion of sacred images,” the “Doctor of the Assumption,” the Gregory the Great and the “Aquinas of the East.”
We owe our crucifixes and crosses, stained-glass windows, paintings, statues, and sacramentals to John Damascene.
Damascene was a monk in the monastery of St. Sabbas in Jerusalem.  He was ordained a priest in 726 and would begin a life of prayer, study, and writing.
Damascene fought the heresy of Iconoclasm, a heresy that denied the use of any images in worship.  He would also reaffirm, against the emperors, the communion of saints. 
The Iconoclast heresy began with the Eastern Emperor Leo III in 736 A.D. and continued under his successor and son, Constantine V.  Images, churches and monasteries were burned, and priests were killed. 
In his great work Three Apologies Damascene used reason, sacred history, and sacred Scripture to defend the faith against the attacks of the eastern emperors.  In regards to the use of images, Damascene used examples from the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament.  Damascene reminded the emperors and their followers that the Jews and Christians did not worship objects, but used objects to remind them of the reality they pointed to.
By citing and explicating Exodus 25:18-19, the making of the two cherubim for the Tabernacle, Numbers 21:8-9, the placing of a bronze serpent on a pole in the desert by Moses, and 1Kings where the temple was adorned and engraved with cherubim, trees and flowers, Damascene was able to affirm the tradition of images used in worship.

By affirming the Old Testament use of images and Christian practice from its origins, Iconaclasm would die out.  In 842, on the first Sunday of Lent, Icons processed into Constantinople to be placed in their proper place.  Damascene reminded all that with the Incarnation, the invisible, the un-portrayable, was made visible, incarnated, enfleshed. 

Damascene would affirm the communion of saints.  By citing and explicating through Scripture the communion of saints (Rm. 8:35-39; Col. 1:24; Mk. 9:4), the intercessory power of the saints (Tob. 12:12; Rev.5:8; Mk. 9:4; Rev. 6:9-11; Sir. 48:14), and the veneration of saints and their relics (1 Thess. 1:5-8; Heb. 13:7, Jos. 5:14; Dan. 8:17; Tob. 12:16; M. 9:4; 2 Kgs. 13: 20-21; Acts 5:15-16; Acts 19:11-12), Damascene vanquished the opponents to the communion of saints.

Damascene was a great promoter and writer of liturgical hymns—thus giving him the title of the “Gregory the Great of the East.”  His liturgical legacy is found in its greatest expression in the Byzantine Catholic liturgy.

Probably Damascene’s paramount recognition is found in his Mariology.  His titles for Mary illustrate his love and theology of Mary.  Mary is the source of light, the treasury of life, the richness of grace, the cause of all goodness, the life-giving ambrosia, the sea of grace, the fountain of healing, the fruitful tree, the lily of the field, the rose among thorns, the gladness of angels, the ark of God, the spotless virgin, the saint of saints, the treasure-house of the God-head, the God-bearer, the Mother of God, etc.

Damascene was the great teacher of the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception (Lk. 1:28, 30; Lk. 1:35; Ex. 40), the Dormition of Mary and the Assumption of Mary body and soul into heaven (Ps. 16:10; Lk. 1:28; Gn. 5:24; Hb. 11:5; 2 Kgs. 2:11; Mt. 27:52; Rev. 12:1f).  Being “full of grace,” like and because of her Son, Mary would experience death, like her Son, but would be assumed by her Son into heaven, body and soul.  Jesus ascended into heaven, Mary was assumed by her Son into heaven.

Damascene is rightly understood as the St. Thomas Aquinas of the East. In many ways, he serves as the emblem of unity between East and West.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Bede the Venerable (673-735)

Fr. John J. Pasquini, Th.D.

When the yellow plague hit England, the monastery at Jarrow was left with two survivors—the abbot Ceolfrid and a young seven year boy monk-in-training, Bede. 

Bede was ordained a deacon at nineteen and ordained a priest at thirty. This young Bede would become a Doctor of the Catholic Church, “the greatest of medieval historians,” and the “Father of English History.”

Bede sought to make a history of England chronologically centered on Christ.  Bede would make the designations B.C. and A.D. popular in England—which in turn became popular on the continent and throughout the western world. All of history would be positioned according to events before and after Christ’s Incarnation. 

His classic work Ecclesiastical History of the English People is a comprehensive account of the secular and religious history of England, from its pagan beginnings to its conversion by Augustine of Cantebury. His approach to gathering and classifying historical information was scientific—an oddity for his time.  He made a distinction for his readers between direct evidence, secondhand information, and hearsay.  He also made sure to cite his sources.

As a scholar and teacher, Bede had a love for the teachings of Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine, and Gregory.  His affirmation of traditional Catholic teaching on the Blessed Virgin, purgatory, praying for the dead, the communion and intercession of saints, the indissolubility of marriage, and the seven sacraments (Baptism, Eucharist—as presence and sacrifice--, Confirmation, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Matrimony, and Holy Orders) would earn him the odium of Protestants in the sixteenth century.  Henry VIII would have his body dug up and despoiled.

Bede died in 735, and in the words of St. Boniface, he legacy was as “the candle of the Church lighted by the Holy Spirit in the English lands.  His last words were “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.” 

Bede’s life is beautifully summarized by the historian J.R. Green:

[Bede was] first among English scholars, first among English theologians, first among English historians….  In this monk English literature strikes its roots….  [Bede] is the father of English national education.  (Quoted in The 33 Doctors of the Church, Tan Publishers, Rockford, 2000), 225).

Friday, July 1, 2016

Isidore of Seville (ca. 560-636)

Fr. John J. Pasquini, Th.D.

Isidore, known as the “Schoolmaster of the Middle Ages” sought to save from barbarian plundering the history of the past, with the hope of a post-barbarian age.  He is often referred to as a man who had one foot in the past and one foot in the future. 

Isidore sought to preserve the past and present by summarizing or compiling all known knowledge or facts in his textbooks and encyclopedias.  He compiled to the best of his talent all that was known in the fields of astronomy, physics, medicine, geography, music, anthropology, philosophy, theology--In other words, he sought to compile all things secular and religious. Isidore is known as the first Christian writer to write a history, an encyclopedia (in 20 volumes) of human knowledge.

Isidore’s legacy as a “master of summary” in the fields of science, education and the arts is felt to this day, as echoed in the birth and life of the university system—a Catholic invention.  All modern knowledge owes a deep debt to Isidore’s work of preserving the past in the age of the barbarians, the “dark ages.” 

As a religious leader Isidore had a particular interest in preserving the lives and works of the early Christian writers, the “Fathers of the Church.”  He was particularly firm in teaching the importance of papal primacy in jurisdiction and honor.

His predisposition was known for his moderation and deep knowledge of fallen human nature.  He emphasized the importance of educating the clergy and forming them in the virtues of charity and prudence. 

He was ordained as the Archbishop of Seville in 600 A.D. and presided at the Fourth Council of Toledo.  The Fourth Council of Toledo affirmed the Church’s independence from secular authorities, sought uniformity in the liturgy, and called upon the creation of seminaries for the training of clergy in Cathedral cities.

Isidore’s life saw the birth of the religion of Islam by Mohammed.

Isidore died giving all his earthly possessions to the poor.