Pray Brethren

Pray Brethren

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Road to Constantinople Passes Through Moscow

In the wake of Vladimir Putin's visit with Pope Francis last week, many were hoping Francis would be formally invited to Moscow to meet with the Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and a central leader in the Orthodox world. While no such invitation was extended, it is very important for us to not overlook the checkered history between Catholic and Orthodox Christians.

In 1204, Catholic crusaders sacked Constantinople and established the Latin Empire which lasted until the Byzantines recaptured the city in 1261. The Byzantine Empire, which had lasted for almost a thousand years, was now in its twilight as the Muslim Turks slowly strangled what little life the empire had left. The resulting enmity between the Orthodox and the Catholic Church festered for centuries. As historian Alan Palmer writes:
In 1452 a Byzantine official, critical of his Emperor's attempts to reunite the Eastern church with Rome, is said to have remarked, "It would be better to see the royal turban of the Turks in the midst of this city [Constantinople] that the Latin mitre."
Less than a year later the official got his way as the city capitulated to the Muslim forces of the Ottoman Empire. Many Christians, however, welcomed the Turkic invaders, finding more religious tolerance from the Turks than from their Catholic brethren. Indeed, two hundred and fifty years after the Ottoman conquest, a Holy League of Catholic powers began the liberation of the Balkans, bringing with them renewed Catholic clergy resumed imposing Latin practices upon them. After twenty-five years of liberation in southern Greece, however, the Greeks gladly welcomed the return of the Ottomans. The Muslims of 1713 were still preferable to the proselytizing Latins.

While tensions remain between the Orthodox the Catholic Church three hundred years later, there is something else which 1713 and 2013 share in common: the rise of a strong Orthodox Russia. In 1713, Russia was emerging as an international power under the leadership of Peter the Great, who officially proclaimed the Russian Empire in 1721. The new Orthodox Christian nation to the north succeeded in energizing the Orthodox Christians in Ottoman lands - which helped ensure Ottoman decline and its new status as "the sick man of Europe."

As a strong Orthodox Russia reemerges out of the ashes of atheist communism, we cannot overlook its status as a standard bearer of a renewed Christian civilization. As it renewed the vigor of Christians in Islamic lands in 1713 and sought to protect the Holy Land in the Crimea War, Orthodox Russia today is playing a central role in Middle East while building up the faithful at home. As the Catholic Church seeks a rapprochement with the Orthodox, the road to Constantinople runs again through Moscow.

Vladimir Putin and Pope Francis reverence and image of Mary. How many representatives of other major powers have you seen do this?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving: A Religious and Civic Holiday

On October 3, 1789, less than six months into his presidency, George Washington gave the new nation its first presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation. He began with these words:
“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor, and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me ‘to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.’  
“Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, Who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation..."
Sadly, nothing better exemplifies America's transition from being a religious and civic people to being a domestic and commercial people than the average American observance of Thanksgiving today. Rather than offering thanks to Him who has bestowed upon us blessing after blessing, our focus is upon it which we are about to eat - and thus Thanksgiving is reduced to "turkey day." But the reduction does not stop here. The elevation of "family time" - a great good to be cherished - threatens to diminish our observance of Thanksgiving when it isolates and divorces itself from the larger civic and religious character of Thanksgiving. Indeed, it is our "focus on the family" that often drives us from the dinner table on Thanksgiving Day to the shopping malls on "Black Friday" - and were  it not for the commercialization of "Black Friday," it is without a doubt that Thanksgiving would have succumbed to the same sad fate of so many other important civic holidays and found itself transferred to a Monday.

People rightly complain that "Christ" has been taken out of Christmas, but where is the religious and civic defender of Thanksgiving? Perhaps because religion and politics have become so separated in our society - which is often tacitly accepted by our religious and secular leaders alike - that there are so few defenders of a truly religious and civic holiday among either conservatives or liberals. How could a "Big Business Conservative" and a "Godless Liberal" ever agree to promote Thanksgiving as a religious and civic holiday for a people under God rather than a day of preparation for shopping sprees and sales?

It wasn't always like that, however. Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation came at a point in the Civil War where the death toll had already been catastrophic and the numbers would only climb ever higher by 1865. As then, as it always is, we seem to be more thankful when so much of the good things we have are taken away or are threatened.

Here is a thematic presentation of Lincoln's 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation worth reflecting upon today:
Lincoln sees the Providence of God despite the conflict: The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

Although the war continues, Lincoln notes the many particular blessings of God: In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

For these reasons, Americans ought to thank God for his divine mercy despite our national sins: No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.

Lincoln implores us to give thanks to God, do penance, and pray for the nation's union and those who have sacrificed to uphold that union: I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
As we respond to the call of Washington and Lincoln, let us not stop at merely "counting our blessings," but rather as a civic and religious people give thanks to Almighty God. Let this day be a day of re-orientation and conversion, turning in thanks to Him from whom all blessings come while turning away from our sins and asking for forgiveness. On this day, as a people and a nation under God, let us with one voice proclaim: "Blessed be God forever!"

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Unexamined Importance and Influence of History

Michael Crichton on the unexamined importance and influence of history:
We are all ruled by the past, although no one understands it.  No one recognizes the power of past. But if you think about it, the past has always been more important than the present. The present is like a coral island that sticks above the water, but is built upon millions of dead corals under the surface, that no one sees.

In the same way, our everyday world is built upon millions and millions of events and decisions that occurred in the past...

A teenager has breakfast, then goes the store to buy the latest CD of a new band.  The kid thinks he lives in a modern moment. But who has defined what a “band” is? Who defined a “store”. Who defined a “teenager”? Or “breakfast” To say nothing of all the rest, the kid’s entire social setting: family, school, clothing, transportation and government.

None of this has been decided in the present. Most of it was decided hundreds of years ago. Five hundred years, a thousand years. This kid is sitting atop a mountain that is the past.  And he never notices it.

He is ruled by what he never sees, never thinks about, doesn’t know. It is a form of coercion that is accepted without question.  This same kid is skeptical of other forms of control: parental restrictions, commercial messages, government laws. But the invisible rule of the past, which decides nearly everything in his life, goes unquestioned. 
-From Crichton's Timeline  

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Battle of Tours, 732 AD

On this day in the year 732, the century-long tidal wave of Islamic expansion came to an end at the Battle of Tours in modern day France.

Some scholars, however, downplay the significance of the battle. While it is true that the Battle of Tours was not of the same size and scope of a Gaugamela or even a Cannae, no one who honestly looks at a map of the period can deny Tour’s strategic significance at the time or its long term macrohistorical significance.

In the one hundred years following Muhammad’s death in 632, Islam stormed out of the Arabian Peninsula, conquered and converted Persia, captured the Holy Land, and seized Egypt, north Africa, Spain, and Asia Minor (what is today Turkey). Only Constantinople and the Byzantine use of Greek fire kept Islam from invading the Balkans and marching into the heart of Europe – which is precisely what happened after the fall of Constantinople to Islamic forces in 1453.

Islamic conquests from 622 through the mid-eighth century AD.

With the majority of the Iberian Peninsula under Islamic control by 717, the Pyrenees presented the only modest obstacle to Islamic conquest of what is today France. In that very year, while Muslims lais siege to Constantinople, Islamic forces began crossing the mountains along the Mediterranean coast. This area of southern France, called Septimania, spent the next fifteen years under the dominance of Islamic rule. It was only a matter of time before an advance was made across the Pyrenees along the Atlantic coast.

Image Source: Battle of Tours at Wikipedia
When the advance finally came in 732, it was aided by forces marching from the Islamic Septimanian capital of Narbonne. The local Christian lord, Odo of Aquitaine, found himself caught between two forces attacking him from two directions. His only hope was to abandon his lands and flee north with his army in hopes of finding aid from the Franks, a Germanic tribe that had settled in Gaul as the Roman Empire collapsed.

There he met with Charles, who was effectively the king of the Franks but held only the title of prime minister out of deference to the Merovingians who still held on to the throne. Long had Charles known the Islamic threat to the south, and he had prudently prepared for war by steadily strengthening the Frankish army. Odo of Aquitaine pledged Aquitaine to the Franks in return for their protection and arms. Charles agreed and the united Christian forces marched south.

On October 10, 732, Charles earned the name “Martel” (“the Hammer”) at Tours as his men dealt a stunning defeat against the invading Islamic army. It was a rare instance of medieval infantry standing victorious against cavalry. At one point Charles was nearly struck down, but his comitatus, true to the noble Germanic warrior spirit, formed a wall of men around their leader and saved his life. The same could not be said of the Islamic leader, Abd-al-Raḥmân, whose death in the battle also meant a general retreat of Islamic forces.

A new power was rising. The German warrior wielding the Christian standard finally halted the Islamic advance in western Europe and marked strengthening ties between the Franks and the Catholic Church. For his part, Charles Martel aided St. Boniface’s missionary work in what is today Germany while the Church played a pivotal role in the peaceful transition of power from the Merovingians to the descendants of Charles – the Carolingians. Charles’ son, Pippin, finished driving Muslim forces out of Septimania around 759 while Charles’ grandson, Charlemagne, helped launch the 700-year long Reconquista (“Re-conquest”) of the Iberian Peninsula.

While Charles turned the tide, his grandson Charlemagne established a Frankish foothold in Iberia and began aiding in the re-conquest of what is today Spain and Portugal. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Strategy Games: The Gateway to Culture and Geopolitics

While we live in a very complex and multifaceted world, the events that shape the world – many of them involving the use of arms – are not irrational. In the realm of geopolitics, violence is very rarely senseless. The jihadis who attacked us on 9/11, for example, were neither nihilists nor anarchists and their attack was as much grounded in their geopolitics as their personal religious beliefs.

History’s great strategy games act as a meeting place of culture and geopolitics. Their creators, having themselves been formed by their culture’s worldview, introduce the player to a manner of strategic thinking and problem solving which roughly correlates to the broader geopolitical situation of their nation or civilization.

There are three classic strategy games that all men should have at some time in their lives played; three games which introduce them to the interconnectedness of culture and geopolitics. The following is an introduction to each.

1. Chess

As most readers of this blog have undoubtedly played Chess, the game needs little introduction. What makes it culturally unique is its focus on concentration of power with the aim of eliminating the other player’s forces and ultimately checkmating his king. Chess is the game of European-style warfare in which strategic thought emphasizes decisive battle through force concentration with the ultimate goal of destroying the enemy’s armies and decapitating his leadership or seizing his capital. For an excellent analysis on this style of warfare and its interconnectedness with culture, check out Victor Davis Hanson’s book Carnage and Culture.

2. Go

The difference between the games of Go and Chess are as vast as the difference between the cultures that produced them. Indeed, perhaps the only thing the two games have in common is that both are played by two players. Unlike Chess, the pieces used in Go are not ranked in a hierarchy of points and abilities; Go uses simple white and black stones all of equal power and value. Strength is to be found not in individual stones but rather in the formations the stones can make when placed next to each other.

The strategy of Go follows the strategy of Sun Tzu, who, placing little value on attacking enemy armies and seizing enemy cities or capitals, instructed would-be generals to attack an enemy’s strategy and an enemy’s alliances. In short, Sun Tzu said fighting is a general’s last resort; his best strategy is to win without fighting. Unlike Chess, which focuses on engaging the enemy’s forces and decapitating his leadership, the masters of Go engage in limited fighting across a large grid board. Their goal is to seize as much territory of the board as possible without a great deal of fighting between formations. New Go players often treat the game like Chess, with many stones being captured on both sides – but such aggression leads only to defeat when matched against a master.

In his work, On China, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger argued that modern Chinese foreign policy could only be discerned by one who knew the strategic thinking of Go along with the cultural past underlying its conceptual framework.

3. Diplomacy

While Kissinger drew heavily from the game of Go in his analysis of China, his own personal favorite board game is Diplomacy, a game also favored by President John F. Kennedy. The game's creator, a Harvard graduate who was fascinated as a child with his an old book of maps he found in the attic, died this past February.

Like Chess and Go, Diplomacy uses no dice; unlike Chess and Go, Diplomacy is a seven-player game set in the real life geopolitical climate of pre-World War I Europe. As the name suggests, Diplomacy requires the social skills needed to maintain the balance of power between other nations while finding ways to increase one’s own political and military expansion. The original title of Diplomacy was Realpolitik – and players of the game experience firsthand the international power politics that brought about the Great War and why President Washington implored future American statesmen to avoid getting entangled in a messy web of overseas alliances.

For those who play Diplomacy, the game teaches geography, history, and a hefty dose of social skills. Indeed, where an aggressive, Chess-like strategy is a no-starter in Go, the silent strategist, the Go master, and the arm chair general will all find themselves quickly behind in a game of Diplomacy where face-to-face negotiation is a prerequisite for advancement. Since the death of Allan Calhamer, the game’s creator, his daughter has received countless letters and emails from Diplomacy players and this is how she summed up their content:
“…what I'm seeing over and over again in these emails is that the recurring theme is: ‘I was a really, really nerdy awkward kid who had trouble relating to people, but because ‘Diplomacy’ required interpersonal skills and required you to get people to do what you wanted them to do, that's how I built my social skills.’”
Whether we learn decisive battle from Chess, the power of order and formation from Go, or how to negotiate international affairs and territorial boundaries from Diplomacy, these three games remain quintessential classics which introduce us to the larger world of culture, geopolitics, and strategic thought. If you haven’t played these games, it’s time for you to visit a game store and invite some friends over for a game day. You won’t regret it.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Pope of Christian Unity and the Unity of Faith

Pope Benedict XVI may well be known as the Pope of Christian Unity. In his short pontificate, he not only advanced an unparalleled dialogue with the Orthodox churches, but he also found a way for Anglicans to return to full communion without losing their rich liturgical heritage while also liberalizing the use of the Latin Mass for Catholics who wish to share in its timeless beauty and power.

In his writings, however, Pope Benedict contrasts the unitive and social character of faith with the individual character of philosophy:
“One could say epigrammatically that faith does in fact come from ‘hearing’, not – like philosophy – from reflection. Its nature lies in the fact that it is not the thinking out of something that can be thought out and that at the end of the process is then at my disposal as a result of my thought. On the contrary, it is characteristic of faith that it comes from hearing, that it is the reception of something that I have not thought out, so that in the last analysis thinking in the context of faith is always a thinking over of something previously heard and received.”

“In philosophy, the thought precedes the word; it is after all a product of the reflection that one then tries to put into words; the words always remain secondary to the thought and thus in the last resort can be replaced by other words. Faith, on the other hand, comes to man from the outside, and this very fact is fundamental to it. It is---let me repeat----not something thought up by myself; it is something said to me… and lays and obligation on me.”

Philosophy arises out of an “essentially individualistic structure” and is “by its nature the work of a solitary individual, who ponders as an individual on truth.” The philosopher’s thought or reflection “only becomes communicable later, when it is put into words, which usually make it only approximately comprehensible to others.

“In philosophy, what comes first is the private search for truth, which then, secondarily, seeks and finds a travelling companion. Faith, on the other hand, is first of all a call to community, to unity of mind through the unity of the word. Indeed, its significance is, a priori, an essentially social one: it aims at establishing unity of mind through the unity of the word. Only secondarily will it then open the way for each individual’s private venture in search of truth.”

Monday, October 7, 2013

Re-Posted: Ending Caliphate Dreams

Today marks the anniversaries of two important battles in a war against the Islamic caliphate which has long sought to rule the world. 440 years ago today, Catholics throughout the world were called to pray the Rosary as the Islamic invaders sent a massive fleet out to sea with the Italian peninsula as the immediate prize. The Protestant north was nowhere to be found among the defending Christian fleet – perhaps, they thought, the destruction of the Catholic south was well-deserved. Rome had already been ravaged by a Protestant-led army on May 6, 1527 (to this day new recruits to the Vatican’s Swiss Guard are sworn in on May 6 as a reminder of their duty to lay down their lives in defense of the Pope), and now, forty-four years later, all of Europe would see if God had finally lifted His mantle of protection from the Catholic Church.

Defeat of the Catholic fleet would mean the military decimation of Catholic Europe and an even deeper moral defeat in the eyes of the Protestant north.

The Catholics, however, had a secret weapon: the Queen Mother of God and Ark of the New Covenant. Described as “the world’s first love” by Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Mary is not only God’s ideal woman (He choose her as His mother after all) but she is also prefigured in the Old Testament in the figures of Israel’s queen mother and the Ark of the Covenant. In short, the kings of Israel never ruled with their wives as queen but rather with their mothers – and just as Jesus perfects God’s promise that a king will sit on David’s throne forever (Jeremiah 33:17), Mary shares in Christ’s reign as Queen of Heaven and Earth. Now the Hebrew root of Queen Mother comes from a word meaning warrior – a role which Mary played spiritually at Lepanto. Lastly, Mary is the fulfillment of the Ark of the Covenant in her carrying of Christ (and for more on this, check out this scriptural comparison of between the Old and New Testaments on the Ark and Mary). Just as the Israelites carried the Ark into battle, so too will Catholics at Lepanto – and they did this in more ways than one!

As a prelude to the battle, Pope St. Pius V called on all Catholics to arm themselves with Mary’s intercession in spiritual warfare. The Catholic armada – largely outnumbered by the Islamic fleet – was led by a multinational, ragtag group under the command of Don Juan of Austria. If Austria provided the leader, Venice provided the six “high-tech” galleasses which proved so technologically crucial in battle. Additional spiritual warfare was brought to bear in a physical manifestation by the Knights of Malta, a group of warrior monks founded in 1023 to protect pilgrims and sacred places in the Holy Land. The biggest weapon of the fleet, however, was the Mother of God herself, provided by the Spanish via a replica of the Our Lady of Guadalupe image from the New World. Having been pressed against the original, it was brought to the Old World and mounted on Don Juan’s flagship – a ship which would soon also carry the head of the Islamic fleet’s commander mounted on a pike.

Though the feast day has been re-named a much less militaristic “Our Lady of the Rosary” (due to her victorious intercession through the Rosary), her intercession is still invoked by Catholics – especially Catholics at war on October 7.

Today, however, is also the ten year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. Sadly there are Catholics using this day to pray the Rosary and march against war. If anything, we should follow the example of the early Christians who prayed for military victory even if they themselves were not on the battlefields in great numbers. Lepanto, however, was a military victory of Catholics seeking to end the caliphate dreams of the Islamic caliphate. This dream has been reawakened in the jihadists and their supporters. Instead of protesting, let us take recourse to the Rosary and pray for victory on foreign battlefields. Let us pray our civic and military leaders protect Christians overseas as much as anyone else and that they have the wisdom to outsmart those who seek to overthrow the nations under God.

This article was originally posted on October 7, 2011.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Dr. Pence's Series on the All-Male Priesthood

Below you will find a four-part video series on the Apostolic fraternity of priesthood presented by Dr. David Pence:

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Orate Fratres?

To the good readers of Oratre Fratres, I must apologize for the recent lack of blogging! As the image above indicates, the author of this blog has been a bit busy getting married and settling into a new domestic life. Please bear with me in this time of personal transition, but more fresh posts are soon to come!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

“He Descended Into Hell” – Rejected by Evangelicals?

The Harrowing of Hell
Catholics who recite the Apostles Creed in Mass no longer say that Christ descended to the dead. The new translation of the Latin words descendit ad inferna are better translated as he descended into Hell.

The blogosphere is abuzz about two well-known and well-respected Minnesota Evangelical scholars who reject what is known as the “harrowing of Hell” – Jesus’ descent in Hell where he broke down the doors to righteous dead and freed them from Satan’s death grip. The scholars are Wayne Grudem and John Piper. Grudem, former president of the Evangelical Theological Society believes the words regarding Jesus’ descent should be removed from the Apostle’s Creed.

Both Piper and Grudem remain silent when these words are recited.

What’s wrong with the descent? Piper and Grudem believe it contradicts Christ’s words to the good thief: “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Both scholars, however, overlook key passages of the Bible that speak to Jesus’ descent into Hell. For a wonderful analysis of this, check out this blog post. It is well worth the read.

Christ stormed the gates of Hell. He went head-to-head with the Devil, struck him a mortal blow, and set the captives free. Most images of the harrowing of Hell focus on Christ freeing the souls of the righteous, but perhaps the best imagery we see of the combat between Jesus and the Devil is found in the Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson captures this in the movie of The Two Towers with Gandalf defeating the Balrog after both fell into the depths of the earth. It is only after this that Gandalf experiences a kind of resurrection.

But if the evangelicals are losing the language and understanding of Christ’s descent while Catholics keep it alive in art and literature, it is the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern-Rite Catholics who have kept it alive in liturgy. A story from the Washington Post reads:

"...the harrowing of hell remains a central tenet of Eastern Orthodox Christians, who place an icon depicting the descent at the front of their churches as Saturday night becomes Easter Sunday. It remains there, venerated and often kissed, for 40 days. 'The icon that represents Easter for us is not the empty cross or tomb,' said Peter Bouteneff, a theology professor at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, N.Y. 'It’s Christ’s descent into Hades.'"
This post originally appeared on Orate Fratres on 4/9/12.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Anthropology of Accord: Moses, Joshua, and Barack

Several months ago, Orate Fratres posted a story about the biblical Barack of Judges 4. As our present day Barack presses for gay marriage and women in combat, please read the wonderful post from Anthropology of Accord on the same topic. Here is a short excerpt:
President Barack Obama has referred to himself as the Joshua of a new generation. He refers to Martin Luther King as his Moses. Reverend King himself, in a sermon shortly before his assassination, said he had been to the mountaintop and seen the Promised Land but he knew he might not be allowed to go there. King really was a Moses figure, but President Obama cannot be confused with Joshua. Better to recall another leader of the Israelites – his namesake Barak.
Click here for more.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

St. Paul’s Letter to the Celts?

While we typically associate the Celts with the green countryside of Ireland, the Celtic peoples used to be the most dominant ethnic group of Europe. Although their numerous tribal divisions and warrior individualism meant that they never formed a unified civilization capable of fielding a phalanx or legion, the Celts managed to migrate into what is today Portugal, Spain, France, Britain, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Austria, the Balkans, and even Turkey before being swallowed up by the Roman Empire and the Germanic tribes that succeeded it. A map below shows the full extent of the Celtic peoples in comparison to Rome, Carthage, and the Greek city-states of the third century BC.

The Celts were also known as Gauls in ancient times. Today we tend to think of the Gauls only as those peoples who lived in the land of first century BC Gaul, which is today modern France - but ancient Gaul was much larger. By the time of Julius Caesar’s famous conquest of Gaul, Rome was expanding into Gallic and Greek eastern Europe, and Gallic Iberia (modern Spain and Portugal) had already been brought under the control of Rome. Thus the continental lands of Gaul in Caesar's day were liminted in the first century BC to what would become modern France, and this is a major reason why we mentally limit the ancient terrority of Gaul. The lands of Gallic Britain and Ireland, however, remained predominantly Celtic until the Germanic Anglo-Saxon invasions of the 5th century AD.

The Gauls were known as fierce and mighty warriors – an asset that undoubtedly helped them spread across Europe. In the year 280 BC (only 43 years after the death of Alexander the Great), multiple Gallic tribes, with warriors numbering in the tens of thousands, invaded Greece. The Gauls split into multiple groups and were eventually all driven out of Greece. One group fought a battle at the Thermopylae (the site of the earlier epic Greek-Persian battle) in 279 BC and even made its way to the Greek holy site of Delphi before being defeated by the Greek defenders. The Celts were skilled warriors, but they emphasized the individual warrior over unit cohesion and thus could not seriously challenge the unified Greeks at war. Because of this, the great Greek general Pyrrhus, upon defeating them in battle, incorporated some Gallic warriors into his army as a kind of ancient special forces team rather than attempting to use them in large numbers to fill the ranks of his phalanx.

This is a Roman replic of the ancient Greek statue "Dying Gaul" which was made by third century BC Greeks to depict the final moments of a fierce Celtic warrior defeated during the failed Celtic invasion of Greece.
Although most Gauls fled north, another group went east, crossing over the Bosporus into Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) and laid siege to Byzantium – the future location of Constantinople. Comprised of three tribes, this group of ten thousand Gallic soldiers (and another ten thousand women and children) eventually found itself settling in an area of Asia Minor known as Anatolia. Their capital, Ancyra, is today the capital of Turkey: Ankara. What’s more, since they were Gauls the expanse of their territory was called Galatia. There the Gauls of central Asia Minor grew in numbers over the next two hundred years. Despite becoming a Roman province during the first century BC, St. Jerome noted that the Celtic inhabitants of Galatia were still speaking a Gallic tongue into the 4th century AD.

Long before St. Patrick went to Ireland, St. Paul preached the Gospel to the Celts of Galatia in the first century – and his famous letter to them can be found as the ninth book of the New Testament.

Province of Galatia (red) within the Roman Empire