13 February: A Sabine saint’s feast

I miss The Sabine Farm very much, even though it is really cold there.  I am told that water pipes recently broke at the Farm, though not in my house. 

Newer readers might not make the connection, but I call my place in the USA "The Sabine Farm" on the model of the ancient poet Horace’s getaway refuge from Rome back in the day.  In any event, I notice things about the Sabine region of Lazio here in Italy. 

Today we have a Sabine saint:

5. Reate in Sabina, commemoratio santi Stephani, abbatis, mirae patientiae viri, sicut Sanctus Gregorius papa Magnus scripsit.  … At Rieti in the Sabine area [of Latium] the commemoration of St. Stephan, abbot, a man of marvelous patience, as St. Pope Gregory the Great wrote.

We can patristiblog about this fellow for a moment. 

What did Gregory the Great write about St. Stephan the Abbot (+ VI c.)?

In Dialogues 4.12, the Pope and Doctor wrote…

1. Sed neque hoc sileam, quod vir venerabilis abbas Stephanus, qui non longe ante hoc in have urbe defunctus est, quem etiam ipse bene nosti, in eadem provinicia Nursiae contigisse referebat. …  But I won’t pass over in silence another event in the province of Norcia, told me by Abbot Stephan, who died at Rome just a while ago, a fact you know quite well.  …

Thereafter, Gregory recounts that Stephan told him the story of a priest who was married and, though he loved his wife, kept his distance from her entirely, almost as if she were an enemy.  When at 40 years of priesthood he was dying of a fever and was completely laid low, she put his ear close to his nose to see if he was still breathing.  He summonded the strength to say: "Recede a me, mulier.  Adhuc igniculus vivit.  Palleam tolle.  … Draw back from me, woman.  There is still a little flame alive.  Take the dry straw away!"

A couple interesting things are here. 

First, the wife of the priest is called in Latin "presbytera".  This does NOT mean in any way that she was ordained.  This was just the way they refered to the spouse of the priest.  Here in Rome there is a famous mosaic in the Church of San Prassede depicting a woman Theodora as "episcopa".  This means only that she was closely related to a bishop, not that she was bishop. 

Second, Pope Symmachus (384-99) had permitted priestly ordination only at at least 35 years of age.  So, this priest was some 75 year old when dying, since he was ordained 40 years.  The reference to straw seems to resonate with a section of, I think, 1 Kings which deals with how libido can cause the flowers of virtues to catch fire and burn up.

In any event, the story goes on that the old priest started to rally a little and then started exclaiming that he could see St. Peter and Paul there.  Again and again he said "Ecce venio, ecce venio."  And as he spoke to the apostles, he died.  Gregory explains that often the just are permitted visions of the saints when they are at the point of dying so that they won’t be afraid.  They can suffer the separation of soul from flesh with the hope of their citizenship in heaven.  Fear of death is a constant theme for the Fathers.
 
But back to St. Stephan.  This abbot, perhaps at Norcia, where by the way there is a revival going on under the American Abbot Cassian Folsom, perhaps was in Rome as a refugee as was a certain Eleuterius of Spoleto (cf. Dialogues 3.33.1).  

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Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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11 Responses to 13 February: A Sabine saint’s feast

  1. Leguleius Magnus says:

    Father Z, Check out the martyrology entry for Sts Simeon and Anna on February 3. I’m not a latinist, but it looks to me as if it says that Simeon and Anna made their big fuss over Baby Jesus when he was brought to the Temple to be circumcized. I don’t think that’s quite right.

  2. I call my place in the USA “The Sabine Farm” on the model of the ancient poet Horace’s getaway refuge from Rome back in the day.

    The beginning of Horaces “Ode to Maecenas”:

    Cheap Sabine wine, in modest cup, come drink with me.

    (In cheap English translation, of course.) Though Father Z’s descriptions of Sabine farm cusine suggest that he favors a better wine than Horace, and sips it not from a farm kitchen cup but from a decent chalice.

  3. Henry: The wine we drink at the Sabine Farm is actually cheaper than the stuff I know about. I set the table with Riedel and Spiegelau and the only cup permitted is the sort one might drink coffee from.

  4. “First, the wife of the priest is called in Latin “presbytera”. This does NOT mean in any way that she was ordained. This was just the way they refered to the spouse of the priest. Here in Rome there is a famous mosaic in the Church of San Prassede depicting a woman Theodora as “episcopa”. This means only that she was closely related to a bishop, not that she was bishop. ”

    Every advocate of women’s ordination that I know (I know a lot of them, I used to be one!) should read this paragraph. That mosaic is frequently cited as “proof” that women in the early church were ordained.

  5. Amy Marie says:

    Fr. Stephanos has an explanation on his blog, his theory is that Theodora is Pope Paschal I’s mother:

    http://monkallover.blogspot.com/2006/08/romancatholicwomenpriestsorg-greets.html

  6. marcin says:

    In fact the title ‘presbytera’ (and its equivalents) referring to the priest’s wife is still being used in the Byzantine Churches.
    Cf. http://orthodoxwiki.org/Presbytera

  7. Cathy: “That mosaic is frequently cited as “proof” that women in the early church were ordained.”

    Yah… pretty dopey, eh? And let’s not forget the fresco in the catacomb of a women with her hands raised in prayer (which they think means she was a priest). Puhleeze.

  8. Henry: I recalled having translated that wonderful little ode of Horace here for the blog during Lent last year:

    (When you visit me in the country at my farm)
    You will quaff from simple drinking cups
    the lowly Sabine which I laid down with the
    Greek style seal, in the year when the applause
    was given to you in the theater,

    dear knight Maecenas, so loud that
    the Vatican hill together with the banks of
    fatherly river Tiber sent the praises
    back to you.

    (At home) you will be drinking Caecuban and the grape
    crushed in the Calenean press; my vines
    and not Falernian or Formian will
    blend in your cups
    (when you visit my Sabine farm house in the country).

    As an interesting side note, the red wine they put on the table here at the Domus is called “Falernus”. It is every bit as nasty as the name is famous!

  9. David says:

    Actually, Father, recent excavations in Ephesus have shown that the Early Church made great use of Eucharistic Ministers (often outnumbering the congregation in some mosaics that have been found), rainbow vestments (multicoloured traces of a primitive form of polyster were discovered), and guitars (which were found to have better amplification in the “worship space” than the lute).

    I think you really need to re-examine your whole approach to the liturgy in the light of the true traditions of the Church. ;-)

  10. Father Z: Here, for comparison, is W. E. Gladstone’s 1894 translation:

    Cheap Sabine wine, in modest cup,
    Come drink with me. I sealed it up
    When gathered Rome would have thee hear
    Its rapturous cheer.
    Dear Knight Maecenas, let the banks
    Of thine own stream repeat those thanks,
    And echoing Vatican again
    Renew the strain.
    Calenian wines are pressed for thee
    and Caecuban; for such as me,
    Falernum, and the Fromian hill
    No beakers fill.

    How do “ICEL” and “literal” apply here?

  11. Henry: Gladstone is not bad, though he has to scramble to rhyme it.