ACTION ITEM! Getting TLM things for a priest

From a priest…

I am a priest in good standing in the Archdiocese of ___. I have been trained in the offering of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, but unfortunately I do not have the means to get all the items I need. I would like to offer the EF Mass more frequently and figured you might know some donors or might be able to help. I am looking for the 1962 Travel Size Missal and about 50 of the Red Booklet Missals for the faithful.

I would like to remain anonymous, except to the donor, who I would like to thank (unless they would like to remain unknown). Thank you for your help in this matter. I am grateful to you, especially for your priestly ministry.

Okay… how do we do this?

Perhaps someone interested could commit to obtaining the items requested and I can put the two of you in touch.

Would that work?  Drop me an email.  First come, first served, as it were.

UPDATE:

A reader wrote, saying:

I read with interest the item about the priest who can’t afford all that he needs to offer the Venerable Form more frequently.  It gave me an idea:  perhaps the priest should contact the local Knights of Columbus council.  Given the state of the Knights these days, it may be a long shot, but asking them to live up to their duty of supporting priests and promoting vocations is only asking them to be who they are supposed to be anyway.

Right!  What are they doing, anyway?

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WDTPRS – 14th Sunday after Pentecost: healths, hands and the finger

This Sunday’s Collect for the Extraordinary Form survived the snipping and pasting of the Consilium and the late Rev. Annibale Bugnini’s liturgical experts to be used in the Ordinary Form on Tuesday of the 2nd week of Lent.  Figure that one out.

Custodi, Domine, quaesumus, Ecclesiam tuam propitiatione perpetua: et quia sine te labitur humana mortalitas; tuis semper auxiliis et abstrahatur a noxiis, et ad salutaria dirigatur.

Propitiatio, in its fundamental meaning, is “an appeasing, atonement, propitiation”. The dictionary of liturgical Latin Blaise/Dumas also gives us a view of the word as “favor”. This makes sense. God has been appeased and rendered favorable again towards us sinners by the propitiatory actions Christ fulfilled on the Cross. We have renewed these through the centuries in Holy Mass.

Mortalitas refers, as you might guess, to the fact that we die, our mortality. Inherent in the word is the concept that we die in our flesh. So, you ought also to hear “flesh” when you hear mortalitas.

Labitur is from labor. This is not the substantive labor but the verb, labor, lapsus. It means, “to glide, fall, to move gently along a smooth surface, to fall, slide”.

Auxilium, in the plural, has a military overtone. There is also a medical undertone too, “an antidote, remedy, in the most extended sense of the word”. Pair this up with noxius, a, um, which points at things which are injurious or harmful. There is a moral element as well or “a fault, offence, trespass”.

Salutaria is the plural of neuter salutare which looks like an infinitive but isn’t. Our constant companion the Lewis & Short Dictionary says the neuter substantive salutare is “salvation, deliverance, health” in later Latin. The adjectival form, salutaris, is “of or belonging to well-being, healthful, wholesome”. Think of English “salutary” and O salutaris hostia in the Eucharistic hymn by St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274).

When this word is in the neuter plural (salutaria) there is a phrase in Latin bibere salutaria alicui … to drink one’s health” or literally “to drink healths to someone”. In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet during the famous “Queen Mab” speech Mercutio declares that a soldier dreams, inter alia, of “healths five fathom deep,” (I, iv) and in Henry VIII the King says to Cardinal Wolsey, “I have half a dozen healths to drink to these” (I, iv).

Wine and health are closely related in the ancient world. In the parable of the Good Samaritan the good passerby pours oil and wine into the wounds of the man who was assaulted (Luke 10:25-37). St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy:

“No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Tim 5:23).

Apart from its resemblance to blood, it is no surprise that Christ should choose this healthful daily staple as the matter of our saving Sacrament.

Wine was often safer to drink than water in the ancient world, though it was nearly always mixed with water to some extent. To drink uncut wine, merum in Latin (from the adjective merus “unadulterated”, giving us the English word “mere”) was considered barbaric. Cicero (+43 BC) and others hurled that accusation at Marcus Antonius (+31 BC) who was a renowned merum swiller.

Catholics sing the word merum in the hymn of the Holy Thursday liturgy, Pange lingua gloriosi, by St. Thomas Aquinas: “fitque sanguis Christi merum… and the (uncut) wine becomes the Blood of Christ”. In sacramental terms, there is a link between wine and health in the sense of salvation. During Holy Mass, we offer gifts of wine with water to become our spiritual “healths” once it is changed into the Blood of Christ. These archaic and literary references help us drill into the language of our prayers.

Let’s drill some more. Did you know that the index finger was called digitus salutaris, and that the ancient Romans held it up when greeting people? We don’t do that very often these days. I believe modern usage, at least on roadways, more commonly employs a different finger. The special designations of fingers in Latin are pollex (thumb); index or salutaris (forefinger); medius, infamis or impudicus (middle finger); minimo proximus or medicinalis (ring finger); minimus (little finger, “pinky”). The priest, during Mass, always held the consecrated Host only between his thumb and the digitus salutaris. One way to harm a priest, our mediator at the altar and in the confessional, was to chop off his index fingers. Priests without those fingers were forbidden to say Mass without special permission from the Holy See.  Those fingers were clearly understood by those who hate the Church, priesthood, and the Eucharist as being especially important.  North American martyr missionaries were mutilated like this.

Let’s push this a little more.

The adjective medicinalis, “medicinal, healing”, comes from the verb medeor or medico, the original meaning of which has to do with “to heal” by magic. The verb traces back to the stem med– or “middle”. So, medicus, “doctor” is associated with “mediator”. We can think of this in terms of the English word “medium”, who is a mediator with the spirit world. The Latin poet Silius Italicus (Tiberius Catius Asconius Silius Italicus +101) called a magician “medicus vulgus” (Punica, III, 300). The ancients saw what we call the “ring finger” as having magical powers. This is reflected in the name digitus medicinalis, the “medicinal/magic” finger.

One of the most important Patristic Christological images in the ancient Church is Christus Medicus, the “Physician”. St. Augustine does amazing things with this image, and Christus Mediator. He is the doctor of the ailing soul. He is the only mediator between God and man.

LITERAL RENDERING:

Guard your Church, we beseech You, O Lord, with perpetual favor, and since without You our mortal flesh slides toward ruin by means of your helping remedies let it be pulled back from injuries and be guided unto saving healths.

Watch how the old incarnation of ICEL ruined the imagery.

OBSOLETE ICEL (1973):

Lord, watch over your Church,
and guide it with your unfailing love.
Protect us from what could harm us
and lead us to what will save us.
Help us always, for without you we are bound to fail.

We won’t ever have to hear that one again!

CURRENT ICEL (2011):

Guard your Church, we pray, O Lord, in your unceasing mercy,
and, since without you mortal humanity is sure to fall,
may we be kept by your constant helps from all harm
and directed to all that brings salvation
.

We all know the image of the slippery slope. Once you are on this slope, scrabble and scratch with your weak hands as you can, and you can’t get a purchase.

You slide and slide, faster and faster.  Down.

Our fallen nature and our habitual sins drag us onto the slope from which we cannot save ourselves. In the sacraments and teachings of Holy Church, Christ extends the fingers of His saving hand.

He draws us back from a deadly slide with His Almighty hand.

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Confused about Pope Francis? You have company!

William Oddie has an interesting piece at the UK’s best Catholic weekly, The Catholic Herald (represented recently by Crisis which is growing in my estimation) about Pope Francis’ modus operandi.

If you are confused sometimes about what Pope Francis does or what he says… or, importantly, doesn’t say… you are not alone.

Let’s have a taste:

This Pope Does Not “Do” Doctrine

If you are puzzled, even disoriented by the Holy Father’s conduct of his pontificate (and I stress at the outset that what follows is not intended as an attack on it) you may be reassured by an article in this month’s National Geographic magazine, which contains some possibly indiscreet remarks by the Pope’s spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi, which indicate that you are not alone. I say “possibly” indiscreet, since as he is the Pope’s director of communications, maybe what he says is something the Holy Father doesn’t mind us knowing.

This is from an account of a conversation between the Pope’s spokesman when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Federico Wals, and Fr Lombardi. “So, Father,” the Argentine asked, “how do you feel about my former boss?” Managing a smile, Fr Lombardi replied: “Confused.” He described the contrast between the way Pope Benedict would give an account of a conversation with some world leader and the way Pope Francis does it.

After meeting with a world leader, the former pope would emerge and rattle off an incisive summation, Lombardi tells me, with palpable wistfulness: “It was incredible. Benedict was so clear. He would say, ‘We have spoken about these things, I agree with these points, I would argue against these other points, the objective of our next meeting will be this’—two minutes and I’m totally clear about what the contents were. With Francis—‘This is a wise man; he has had these interesting experiences.’ Chuckling somewhat helplessly, Lombardi adds, “Diplomacy for Francis is not so much about strategy but instead, ‘I have met this person, we now have a personal relation, let us now do good for the people and for the Church.’”

No one knows all of what he’s doing, according to Fr Lombardi. “His personal secretary doesn’t even know. I have to call around: One person knows one part of his schedule, someone else knows another part.” The previous day, the Pope had hosted a gathering in Casa Santa Marta of 40 Jewish leaders—and the Vatican press office learned about it only after the fact. Fr Lombardi shrugged his shoulders and simply said: “This is the life.”

[…]

Maybe his unpredictability is more calculated than we have supposed? Maybe it is part of his campaign to reform the Roman Curia, which had clearly become corrupt and over-powerful. Everyone still remembers his 2014 Christmas rant to the Church’s highest-ranking officials, including a list of 15 “ailments” that he said plagued the Vatican’s bureaucracy. He portrayed a Church hierarchy that had lost its humanity at times, a body consumed by narcissism, where men who are meant to serve God with optimism instead presented a hardened, sterile face to the world. He denounced the “pathology of power,” and the “spiritual Alzheimer’s” that has made leaders of the Catholic church forget they are supposed to be joyful.

Well, they didn’t like it much: the question is, was he right? The “confusion” still felt within the Vatican, and reported by Fr Lombardi, may well be part of a tactic to get on top of the Roman Curia: who knows?

But what about the rest of us? I’m confused too: after the publication of Laudato Si (my views on which, if you’re interested, may be read here) I was angry, as well, at least at first.

[…]

Posted in SESSIUNCULA | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

He’s back! Fr. Byers returns from silence

It is good to see that – after a hiatus – Fr. George David Byers is back and up and running on these interwebs. His new blog is Arise! Let us be going!

To set the mood, at this time his wallpaper includes the image of the raven and seagull opening up a can of whoopass on the poor little peace dove during a papal Angelus. HERE No sign of Sylvia, the Papal Dove Protector.

Posted in Mail from priests, SESSIUNCULA, The Campus Telephone Pole | Tagged | 3 Comments

Diminishing Returns: Feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist

Today is the feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist.

I consider this (also) my name day, and in so many ways it is more appropriate for me than the Nativity of John in June.

Here is the Roman Martyrology entry for ” the greatest man born of woman”, as the Lord called him:

Memoria passionis sancti Ioannis Baptistae, quem Herodes Antipas rex in arce Macherontis in carcere tenuit et in anniversario suo, filia Herodiadis rogante, decollari praecepit; ideo, Praecursor Domini, sicut lucerna ardens et lucens, tam in morte quam in vita testimonium perhibuit veritati.

The memorial of the suffering and death of St. John the Baptist, whom King Herod Antipas held in the prison in the citadel of Macheron and, on his birthday, since the daughter of Herodias was making the request, ordered to be beheaded; thus, the Precursor of the Lord, like a bright shining lantern, gave witness to the truth in death as much as he did in life.

There is a tradition that John was forgiven the guilt of Original Sin before He was born, at the sound of Mary’s voice when she came to visit Elizabeth and John lept in her womb.

St. Augustine spoke often of St. John the Baptist, “the voice” of Christ’s “Word”.

Here is a piece of s. 380, preached in a year we can’t quite figure out. As a matter of fact, it might not be an actual sermon, but something assembled from other pieces. Still, it is Augustinian:

8. So let us recognize these two things in the very differences of [Christ’s and John’s] deaths. We read that John suffered martyrdom for the truth; was it for Christ? It wasn’t for Christ if Christ isn’t Truth. It certainly wasn’t for His Name, and yet it was for Truth itself. I mean the reason John was beheaded, after all, was not that he had confessed Christ. But he was urging self-control, he was urging justice; he was saying, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mk 6:18). The law, you see, which had commanded this, had also commanded about those who died without children, that brothers should take the wives of their brothers, and raise up seed for their brothers. Where this reason was lacking, the only motive was lust. It was this lust that John was rebuking, a chaste man rebuking an incestuous one; because this too is what he represented: “It is necessary for him to grow, but for me to diminish” (Jn 3:30).

The commandment had already been given that if anyone died without seed, his closet relation should take his wife and raise up seed for his brother. After all, why had God commanded this if not to signify in this way that the brother’s seed was to be raised up to the brother’s name? The commandment, you see, was that the child to be born would have the name of the deceased. Christ was deceased, the apostles took His spouse, the Church. Those whom they begot of her they did not name Paulians or Petrians, but Christians.

So let both their deaths also speak of these two things: “It is necessary for him to grow, but for me to diminish.” The one grew on the Cross, the other was diminished by the sword. Their deaths have spoken of this mystery, let the days do so too. Christ is born, and the days start increasing; John is born, and the days start diminishing. So let man’s honor diminish, God’s honor increase, so that the honor of man may be found in the honor of God.

Augustine makes the connection between the change of seasons and the births of John the Precursor and Christ the Messiah.

In nature, in the northern hemisphere, the days are now quite obviously getting shorter, a cycle reflected in our feasts.

 

Posted in Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Saints: Stories & Symbols | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Another good pre-Synod resource in defense of the family

I know that it seems like a torrent of things pertaining to the theme of the Synod of Bishops is coming at you. It feels like that for me, too.

That said, here is another title for your consideration.

Bishop Jean Laffitte, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family, has a new book to be released on 1 September. I knew him a little, way back when. He is dependable.

The Choice of the Family: A Call to Wholeness, Abundant Life, and Enduring Happiness

Choice of the Family Lafitte

There is an introduction by Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, and a Preface by Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Archbishop of Philadelphia.

And don’t forget…

The “sequel” to the Five Cardinals Book™ is coming.  HERE

The Eleven Cardinals Book™ is on its way.

Eleven Cardinals Speak On Marriage and the Family  UK link HERE

Eleven Cardinals Book

Edited by Winfried Aymans the Eleven Cardinals Book is slated for release on 25 September (in advance of the Synod on the Family).  For more on the Cardinals, HERE.  The publisher is – who else? – Ignatius Press!

This book has as its focus merciful pastoral ministry to those who are in challenging marriage situations.  It will address marriage preparation, evangelization and conversion, the situation of the divorced and civilly remarried.

Next… slated for release on 28 September (in advance of the Synod on the Family), also from Ignatius Press (who else?)…

Christ’s New Homeland – Africa: A contribution to the Synod on the Family

This is the Ten Africans Book™!  UK link HERE

Christs New Homeland Africa

Ten African cardinals and bishops wrote essays about the attitudes of Africans about marriage and the family.   The indomitable Francis Card. Arinze wrote the preface.

Among the cardinals and bishops are

Card. Sarah
Card. Arinze
Card. Tumi
Card. Sarr
Arcbp. Kleda

There will be Kindle versions of both.

Get a Kindle now, if you don’t have one already.

USA HERE – UK HERE

Posted in One Man & One Woman, Our Catholic Identity, Synod, The Coming Storm, The future and our choices | Tagged , , , | 14 Comments

Even For Fishwrap a new low

fishwrapFrom The Fishwrap (aka National Sodomitic Reporter)… The Church should work with Big Business Abortion – Planned Parenthood.

To them, I’m sure, this is reasonable.

Sample:

The Catholic church should partner with Planned Parenthood to reduce abortions

After 40 years of rosaries prayed in front of abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood offices, annual marches, and millions upon millions of dollars raised to fund the anti-abortion lobby and the related jobs program for the anti-abortion lobbyists, what is the end result? Eh.
This past Saturday, thousands of anti-abortion activists protested at Planned Parenthood sites across the nation demanding that the federal government defund the organization, according to Reuters. Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay, Wis., diocese prayed in front of a local Planned Parenthood health clinic.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Eric Ferrero, Vice President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement that the rallies were meant “to intimidate and harass” the organization’s patients. “Unlike these protesters, compassion is at the center of what we do, and we will continue to provide care, and a safe, welcoming environment for our patients, no matter what,” Ferrero said.

Forty years of the same behavior from both sides of the abortion debate. Forty years.

Let’s face it. It’s time for the Catholic church and Planned Parenthood to try something dramatically different: to work closely together in order to reduce the number of abortions. It’s time for a committee of national Catholic lay leaders and executives of Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers to begin a sincere dialogue about creating a new way forward — together.

[…]

Seriously?

It’s good that this rubbish is so long that few people will read it.

Lay leaders… no mention of the hierarchy. Fishwrap pits laity against clergy. Their idea of sensus fidelium excludes influence of the Church’s pastors and replaces them with polls.

Elsewhere I asked for prayers for the Fishwrap, that God would bring about either conversions or closure.

Involucrum delendum est.

UPDATE:

The Great Roman adds:

Sure and Pius XII should’ve worked with the Nazis to save the million Jews he saved, and Francis would do well to endorse ISIS to save Christians in the Middle East. The Vatican could offer its diplomatic immunities to ship baby parts around the world without much trouble….

Posted in Emanations from Penumbras, Liberals, Our Catholic Identity, Pò sì jiù, SESSIUNCULA, You must be joking! | Tagged , , , | 21 Comments

Same-sex marriages, and then polygamy, and then…

Same-sex approval in law will lead to all sorts of aberrations from nature.  Ultimately, I think the true goal is elimination of the age of consent.  Meanwhile, the erosion continues.

For example, from Fox411:

‘Sister Wives’ family cites gay marriage ruling in polygamy case

SALT LAKE CITY – A polygamous family says the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage shows that laws restricting consensual adult relationships are outdated, even if certain unions are unpopular.

Kody Brown and his four wives argue in court documents that their reality TV show “Sister Wives” shows polygamous marriages can be as healthy as monogamous ones.

“The Browns were investigated and no crimes or harm was found in their plural family,” attorney Jonathan Turley wrote in court documents filed Wednesday in front of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. He has said the family is prepared to take the legal fight to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

The Browns are defending a legal victory they won in 2013, when a federal judge struck down key parts of Utah’s law banning polygamy. Advocacy groups for polygamy and individual liberties called the ruling a significant decision that removed the threat of arrest for the state’s plural families.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes appealed, saying courts have long upheld laws banning polygamy because they prevent abuse of women and children.

Unlike same-sex marriage advocates, the Browns are not seeking full legal recognition of polygamous marriages. That portion of Utah’s bigamy law prohibiting multiple marriages license was left in place by U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups when he decided that a provision of the state law forbidding cohabitation violated the family’s freedom of religion.

In most polygamous families, the man is legally married to one woman but only “spiritually married” to the others.

The teaching that polygamy brings exaltation in heaven is a legacy of the early Mormon church, but the mainstream Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints abandoned the practice in 1890 and strictly prohibits it today.

The next step, I suppose, is to introduce some pets into the happy fold.

Posted in One Man & One Woman, The Coming Storm, The future and our choices | Tagged , , | 31 Comments

Huge petition askes Pope Francis for clarity about marriage

I saw this at Breitbart, in which your writer was cited. My emphases and comments:

POPE UNDER PRESSURE AS HALF A MILLION CATHOLICS URGE HIM TO REAFFIRM TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE [I’ll bet there are a lot more.]

More than 500,000 Catholics, including many senior clerics, have signed a petition calling on Pope Francis to reaffirm traditional teaching on marriage and the family after months of confusion over his supposed liberal stance on the issue. [Part of the problem arises from the fact that we often don’t know what the Pope is thinking.  Frankly, I don’t think he would try to change the meaning of marriage… apart from the fact that he really can’t, can he?]

The petition, which was started by U.S. conservative group TFP Student Action, calls on the Pope to “clarify the growing confusion among the faithful” at October’s Synod of Bishops and “implores” him to “prevent the very teaching of Jesus Christ from being watered down”. [The issue is confusion, surely.  The confusion is being created especially by Germans.  We shall see if the Holy Father tamps it down.]

The group accuses “dissident Catholic pressure groups” of attempting to subvert Church teaching on marriage, [yes… that is what they are doing] saying: “They are bombarding the Holy Father and the Synod Fathers right now with messages of revolt against traditional moral values as they clamor for “change, change, change” inside the Church.”

The petition has been signed by five Cardinals as well as numerous bishops and archbishops from across the world. Other major figures who signed the petition include former US senator Rick Santorum.

In October, bishops from around the world will meet in Rome to discuss the role of the family in the modern world and make recommendations to the Pope about how he should approach issues such as divorced and remarried Catholics.

Pope Francis has been noted for his statements that make him appear to support a liberal line on various social issues, most famously when he said “Who am I to judge?” when asked about a supposed gay lobby within the Vatican.

As Catholic blogger Father Z points out, however, nothing he said changed or violated Church teaching on the issue:

If they “accept the Lord”, and “have goodwill”… pretty clearly meaning, “if they are trying to live a good Christian life”, which involves continency and chastity, then I can’t point a finger at them and say they are evil, etc. “Who am I to judge?”, depends on what went before in the same sentence. It does not mean, “Anyone can do anything and we don’t have a right to make a moral judgement.”

Some liberal bishops have also suggested the Church should permit divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion under certain circumstances, but such a move is likely to face strong opposition, especially from non-Western bishops. [At least from non-Germans!]

TFP Student Action director John Ritchie said: “After Ireland and the US Supreme Court both approved same-sex marriage, a strong reaffirmation of Church teaching could save the sacred institution of marriage. The Catholic Church is the centre of history. It is the moral compass of the world. As the Church goes, so goes the world.

The Synod is coming and already some people are experiencing Synod Fatigue.

We have to stay focused on the Synod, even though it is going to get pretty tedious, under the onslaught of articles and books that are coming.

Stay the course.

Posted in ACTION ITEM!, One Man & One Woman, Our Catholic Identity, Pope Francis, Synod | Tagged , , | 13 Comments

How St. Augustine came to be in Hippo

St. Augustine was born and raised in the North African backwater of Thagaste, in what is today northern Algeria.  He studied in Carthage.  He worked and was baptized in Milan.  He returned to Thagaste.

How did he wind up in what became modern day Annaba, Hippo Regius?

Here with the help of the best biography of Augustine I have read, by Serge Lancel, is a description of how Augustine was made a priest of Hippo.

BACKGROUND: Augustine had been a Manichean, had gone to Milan for a position as imperial orator, had converted and, once baptized by Ambrose, returned – as mentioned above – to N. Africa. He started a monastic community in his home town of Thagaste.

Augustine began to recruit for his community, traveling and interviewing likely candidates. Augustine would avoid towns which had no bishops, for he feared being constrained to remain and to be consecrated.

Then Augustine traveled to Hippo to interview a fellow who had been in the Imperial secret service (an agens in rebus).  The rest is history.

In what follows, from Lancel’s Augustine,  (pp. 150 ff) (emphasis mine).

Passing through Hippo to meet a friend who wanted to talk to him about his monastic vocation, [an agent in rebus!] Augustine had had to prolong his stay, as we have seen, because of the man’s wavering. There he attended church and took part in the services without keeping on the alert, since the bishopric was duly provided with a bishop. But he, Valerius, was old; Greek by birth, he was a mediocre speaker in Latin and knew no Punic at all, though it was a good thing to know at least a few words to use with the rustic faithful, who spoke the remnants of Carthage’s ancient language, very much bastardized, as a kind of patois. In a text from this era, Augustine records a detail about his bishop which is very significant in this respect: in a conversation between peasants Valerius had heard the word salus – or at least something near it – and had asked one of them who also knew Latin what the word meant; he had answered ‘three’ (tria), and Valerius had gone into ecstasies over the remarkable meeting, between one language and the other, of “salvation” and the Trinity!

AugustineMoreover, the Christian community headed by Valerius was not in a good position at this time. The Manichaeans prospered at Hippo, under the leadership of a “priest” named Fortunatus, whom Augustine had known previously at Carthage when they had been co-religionists in the sect, and whose clever proselytism had won followers among the town’s citizens as well as in the little foreign colony. At the same time, the community itself was divided: the Donatists there were in a strong position, and their bishop, Faustinus, was able to indulge in a gesture as serious and symbolic as forbidding bakers to cook bread for the Catholic minority. Valerius clearly lacked the stature to stand up to them, even less to put the situation right. Was Augustine unaware of this state of affairs? The faithful of Hippo, for their part, were only too conscious of it, and when the old bishop declared in his sermon that he needed a priest who was capable of helping him, there was a unanimous shout from the congregation. Immediately recognized, surrounded, dragged into the apse to the bishop in his chair, Augustine was ordained priest forthwith.

He had not been able physically to oppose this enforced ordination. He burst into tears and, Possidius recorded later, some of the congregation mistook the meaning of his tears, seeing them as chagrin for entering the clergy through the back door, instead of acceding directly to the episcopacy! Assuredly, those tears had quite a different significance; as Possidius also says, setting down what Augustine later confided to his friends, looking ahead to his almost inevitable elevation to the position of bishop, “he had the premonition of the multiplicity and immensity of the perils that the guidance and government of a church would bring to bear on his life.” Here again, even though Hippo was not Milan, the image that came to his mind, symbolic of such a heavy burden, was that of Ambrose, whom he had seen to terribly busy, faced with such important responsibilities. But there was still something else at the root of the knot of anguish which had formed in his heart; such a rude change of destiny implied a farewell to what had been his considered aspiration, since Milan and Cassiciacum in 386, of which the deificari in otio, of course, in his letter to Nebridius told of his strong spiritual need, a life of the spirit and of prayer in a monastic setting, which did not rule out serving others but did not put it in institutional terms. In the evening of his life, making an appraisal of it in a sermon to those people to whom he had devoted his life, the bishop says: “I had said farewell to all worldly hopes, and what I might have been I no longer wished to be; but by no means did I seek to be what I am.” On that day early in 391, with a few fine books already behind him, but with an immense work in gestation in his head, he knew that henceforward days would no longer suffice, and that night vigils would have to be added to daily work: in die laborans et in nocte lucubrans, as Possidius would write.

Augustine already had a pretty sound theological training, and ran no risk of finding himself actually in the situation Ambrose had experienced, of having to learn while teaching, but he was aware that Valerius had appealed to him particularly for the ministry of preaching. And for that first time in his life, someone who know how to speak before the high and mighty of this world, address a cultivated public, correspond with people who were more or less his peers, now had to envisage speaking before the lowly of Hippo, before fisherman (piscatores) who were also sinners (peccatores), for whom Christ had come more than for philosophers and the erudite, and whom he had to reach with their own words. He had already been reproached for the difficulty of understanding certain of his works; besides complementing his scriptural reading, he needed to learn to speak in simple terms – ad usum populi – of things as complicated as the soul, God or the Trinity. Only just ordained, he asked for leave, for both study and meditation.

The letter he addressed to his bishop was preserved. Nothing, he says first, is more satisfying than the office of bishop,priest and even deacon, but nothing is more srethced than to perform it for the vainglory of the social status that accompanies it. And nothing is more difficult than to do it when fully conscious of the lofty mission entrusted to a bishop, priest or deacon. He continues:

I was ordained when I was thinking of giving myself time to get to know the divine Scriptures, and I had made my arrangements so as to benefit from the otium necessary for his negotium. And, to tell the truth, I did not yet know what I lacked for this task, which now torments and crushes me … Perhaps your Holiness will object: “I would like to know what is missing in your education.” My reply is that the things I don’t know are so many that I could more easily enumerate those that I know than those I would like to know. I would dare to say that I know and hold with firm faith what concerns my own salvation; but how could I make use of this knowledge for the salvation of others, “seeking not what is useful to me but what is useful too the greater number for their salvation” (cf. 1 Cor. 10.23)? and perhaps, or rather without any doubt, there are counsels written in the holy books which, by knowing and meditating upon them, the man of God may improve his service in ecclesiastical matters and even, in the hands of sinners, either live without failing his conscience, or die, but without losing the only life that is worth Christian hearts sighing for, in humility and meekness. But how could that be obtained except as the Lord himself says: “by asking, seeking, knocking at the door” (cf. Matt.7.7; Luke 11.9)? That is to say, by means of prayers, reading and tears. It is with this aim that I wanted to ask my brothers to obtain from your very earnest and venerable Charity a little time, just until Easter, which I now desire and hereby request.

Augustine obtained a few weeks’ liberty from Valerius. Perhaps not quite until Easter, which fell that year on 6 April, for there is at least one sermon delivered by the new priest included in the series of “quadragesimal” catechesis sermons, to bear witness that his priest ministry began at Hippo as early as March 391. Where did he go for his brief additional spell of training? Probably Thagaste, at his home, or rather in the “monastery” he would leave to Alypius. For he would have had to settle his affairs, before organizing his life and that of his future companions at Hippo in the real monastery for which Valerius had offered him the material wherewithal. The bishop had in fact given him a house with a garden near the cathedral church. At the cost of accepting the priesthood, and having to give up a great deal, Augustine had attained the goal to which he had aspired for a good few years. We shall have occasion to return to both the concrete realities and the developments and regulatory arrangements of the monastic life he would live at Hippo for nearly forty years.

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