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Death of St. Stephen by Stephen Rembrandt
The first saints were martyrs who were believed to have died for their faith and were immediately whisked off to heaven. Local congregation began venerating them. Pilgrims visited their burial sites and groups or towns adopted them as patron saints and prayed to them for help and miracles. Later saints included "confessors,” people who lived heroic lives but were not killed for their beliefs.

Early saints were credited with raising the dead, emitting strange odors, miraculously producing bread and wine and performing a number of bizarre acts. Saint Egido of Taronto is said to have retrieved the limbs of dismembered cow, reattached them and ordered the animal to walk. Santa Prsola emitted steam through his clothing. San Giangiusseppe della Croce didn't bath or wash his clothes for 64 years. After his death one of his followers bit off his toe and the blood that miraculously flowed out was attributed to miraculous cures.

St. Peter, St. Paul and St. James were among the first martyrs and saints. They were all said to have died violent deaths. Among other early saints that died violent often gory deaths were St. Cyprian, who was beheaded; St. Denis of France, who reportedly carried his head to his village after being decapitated in the 3rd century; and St. Lorenzo, who was slowly burned to death on a spit on August 10th, A.D. 258. St. Catherine, who is said to have lived in the 4th century, is reputed to have been torn to death by spiked wheels for refusing to marry any man except for Jesus Christ.

Some early martyrs were honored to be selected to die. St. Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, said he was thrilled, after being given a death sentence, to have the opportunity to “imitate the passion of my God.” Other were defiant. St. Tertullian, a 3rd century theologian, sneered: “The oftener we are mown down by you the more we grow in numbers: the blood of the Christian seed!” The tales of these martyrs helped win new converts. Their stories made good copy and they left the impressions that must have died for something worth dying for.

Websites and Resources: Christianity Britannica on Christianity britannica.com//Christianity ; History of Christianity history-world.org/jesus_christ ; BBC on Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity ;Wikipedia article on Christianity Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/christ.htm ; Christian Answers christiananswers.net ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library www.ccel.org ; Early Christianity: Elaine Pagels website elaine-pagels.com ; Sacred Texts website sacred-texts.com ; Gnostic Society Library gnosis.org ; PBS Frontline From Jesus to Christ, The First Christians pbs.org ; Guide to Early Church Documents iclnet.org; Early Christian Writing earlychristianwritings.com ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Early Christian Art oneonta.edu/farberas/arth/arth212/Early_Christian_art ; Early Christian Images jesuswalk.com/christian-symbols ; Early Christian and Byzantine Images belmont.edu/honors/byzart2001/byzindex ; Bible and Biblical History: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible biblegateway.com ; King James Version of the Bible gutenberg.org/ebooks ; Bible History Online bible-history.com ; Biblical Archaeology Society biblicalarchaeology.org ; Saints and Their Lives Today's Saints on the Calendar catholicsaints.info ; Saints' Books Library saintsbooks.net ; Saints and Their Legends: A Selection of Saints libmma.contentdm ; Saints engravings. Old Masters from the De Verda collection colecciondeverda.blogspot.com ; Lives of the Saints - Orthodox Church in America oca.org/saints/lives ; Lives of the Saints: Catholic.org catholicism.org

St. George and Patron Saints

Saint George and the Dragon

Patron saints are those who look after special things and select groups of people. Some saints are honored with pilgrimages and feasts. Some are adopted by people as their personal saints.

There are hundreds of patron saints, including St. Apolonnia is the patron saint of dentists; St. Anthony, who became the patron saint of pigs and swineherds because he reportedly had a friend who was a pig; and San Antonio de Padua, a saint whose name is often invoked for help locating lost objects and lost husbands.

St. Blaise, the patron saint of sore throats, was a doctor and bishop who lived in Sebaste (Armenia) is the 3rd and 4th centuries. After living in a cave for many years he was arrested during a period of persecution of the Christians. He earned his sainthood on his way to prison when he healed a young boy who was in great pain as a result of a fishbone in his throat.

Saint George is the patron saint of England and famous for slewing the dragon. No one knows whether ever really existed, There was a St. Gorge of Cappadochia, who suffered martyrdom about A.D. 303 in Lydda in Palestine during the persecution of the Christians but nothing is known about his life. In the 6th century his name became associated with killing a dragon.

Many legends grew up around St. George in the Middle Ages. The best known story features him as knight rescuing the a king’s daughter, Sabra (representing the Church) from a dragon (representing the Devil). After slaying the dragon, George gave all he had to the poor and went forth to preach Christianity, and died a martyr.

St. George was adopted as the patron saint of England in the days of Edward II and the Hundred Years’ War. His feast day is celebrated in April 23. England’s flag bears the Red Cross of Saint George on a white field.

Saint Anthony and Other Ascetic Saints

Saint Anthony
Saint Anthony is credited with launching the greatest monastic movement in religious history. A healer, sufferer, pioneer of monasticism in Christianity, he promulgated celibacy and asceticism and spent most of his life praying and fasting in the desert, where it was said he was tempted many times by the devil, who often appeared dressed as a woman. There is now an Anonite order of monks.

St. Anthony was born in Egypt in 251. Following the admonitions of Matthew, he sold all of his possession, gave his money to the poor so the at he could find the treasure of heaven. He fled to the deserts of Egypt, where he took up an austere life. Others followed his example and a monastic colony arose around his cave in the mountains. Since the Middle Age St. Anthony has been acknowledged as the patron saint of domestic animals. The day of the saint is celebrated with bonfires in communities across Spain.

St. Simeon the Younger (A.D. 521-97) displayed his love of God by long spells of prayer, severe fasting and sitting for 45 years on top of a 66-foot-high stone pillar on the Hill of Wonders near Antioch, Syria.. People came from all over to pray to him and get his advise.

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) was impassioned mystic and "purifier" of monasteries and churches filled with gold, silver and stained glass that he called Synagogues of Satan. He founded the Cistercian reform movement that preached a return to the simple life and established the Abbey of Tontenay in France in about 1118.

Saint Stephen, the First Martyr

St. Stephen (Sebastion) was an early Christian convert who became the first Christian martyr. The chief defender of the Diocletian guard, he was a fervent defender of the faith and offered spirited consolation to countless Christian martyrs in their most difficult moments. The Roman emperor considered these action a betrayal so he ordered Stephen to be tied a tree and shot dead by archers. Miraculously he survived, but he was killed and thus martyred on January 20th, 228 by being stoned to death. St. Sebastian was a popular subject in Renaissance paintings, often depicted punctured by numerous arrows, and was made the patron saint of those who hade suffered from the plague.

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St. Stephen by Rafael
According to the BBC: Saint Stephen was one of the first deacons of the Christian Church. He is believed to have been a Greek Jew who converted to Christianity. When the number of disciples increased, there was much confusion over the distribution of alms and the serving of the poor. Stephen's trustworthy character marked him out, and he was chosen as one of the seven deacons who would perform this task. [Source: BBC, September 13, 2011 |::|]

“An excellent and well trusted orator, his preaching style was so effective that many Jews became worried about his success. They accused him of blasphemy and he was made to stand trial. |::| At the supreme Jewish law court, the Sanhedrin, Stephen recounted the many mercies that God had given the children of Israel, and the ungrateful way in which they had repaid Him. He accused them of murdering Jesus, whose coming, he said, had been foretold by Moses. This angered the crowd and he was dragged out onto the streets. He was then stoned to death according to the law at that time, an event witnessed by St Paul. It is believed he died around the year A.D. 34.

“He is believed to have been initially buried in a grave to the north of Jerusalem, but this body was exhumed and moved to a new grave outside the Damascus Gate. This is where the stoning is believed to have taken place. Stephen is the patron saint of deacons, headaches, horses, coffin makers, and masons. He is often represented carrying a pile of rocks or with rocks on his head. St Stephen's Day is 26th December and it is name checked in the Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas.

Mark Oliver wrote in Listverse: The Apocalypse of Stephen tells the story of the first Christian martyr, who was crucified for telling people that Jesus would return on Judgment Day. It’s a relatively normal story of early Christian persecution except an angel keeps showing up just to drag out poor Stephen’s death. Stephen is sentenced to die by Saul, who has Stephen nailed to a cross. An angel swoops down from Heaven, heals Stephen, and throws away the cross, saving Stephen’s life. But it never occurs to the angel to get him out of there. Saul then has seven men pour molten lead into Stephen’s mouth and nail him up again. But the angel pulls him down once more. Finally, they just hurl rocks at Stephen until he dies. But it takes Stephen a full 10 hours to finally end his suffering. So all the angel’s work was pointless, and Stephen probably spent his last moments wishing they’d have just let him be crucified. [Source: Mark Oliver, Listverse, August 4, 2016]

St. Polycarp

Polycarp of Smyrna

Around 160 AD, Polycarp — Bishop of the church in Smyrna, a city in Asia Minor (modern Izmir in Turkey) — was martyred. He was an old man, at least 86 and probably the last surviving person to have known an apostle, having been a disciple of St. John. This was one reason he was greatly revered as a teacher and church leader. The account here is in the form of a letter from eye-witnesses to other churches in the area. It is the earliest chronicle of a martyrdom outside the New Testament. One interesting feature of the letter is that the writer is very conscious of how Polycarp’s death followed the pattern of Christ’s. As you read it, look for parallels between this story and the Easter story in the gospels. devoted to Roman worship. [Source: Christian History Institute]

The Arrest: “The police and horsemen came with the young man at suppertime on the Friday with their usual weapons, as if coming out against a robber. That evening, they found him lying down in the upper room of a cottage. He could have escaped but he refused saying, “God’s will be done.” When he heard that they had come, he went down and spoke with them. They were amazed at his age and steadfastness, and some of them said. “Why did we go to so much trouble to capture a man like this?” Immediately he called for food and drink for them, and asked for an hour to pray uninterrupted. They agreed, and he stood and prayed, so full of the grace of God, that he could not stop for two hours. The men were astounded and many of them regretted coming to arrest such a godly and venerable an old man.”

Polycarp Refuses to Deny Jesus: “As Polycarp was being taken into the arena, a voice came to him from heaven: “Be strong, Polycarp and play the man!” No one saw who had spoken, but our brothers who were there heard the voice. When the crowd heard that Polycarp had been captured, there was an uproar. The Proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On hearing that he was, he tried to persuade him to apostatize, saying, “Have respect for your old age, swear by the fortune of Caesar. Repent, and say, ‘Down with the Atheists!’” Polycarp looked grimly at the wicked heathen multitude in the stadium, and gesturing towards them, he said, “Down with the Atheists!” “Swear,” urged the Proconsul, “reproach Christ, and I will set you free.” “86 years have I have served him,” Polycarp declared, “and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”

More Attempts to Make Him Submit: “I have wild animals here,” the Proconsul said. “I will throw you to them if you do not repent.” “Call them,” Polycarp replied. “It is unthinkable for me to repent from what is good to turn to what is evil. I will be glad though to be changed from evil to righteousness.” “If you despise the animals, I will have you burned.” “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and is then extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.”“

St. Polycarp’s Death

The Fire is Prepared: “It was all done in the time it takes to tell. The crowd collected wood and bundles of sticks from the shops and public baths. The Jews , as usual, were keen to help. When the pile was ready, Polycarp took off his outer clothes, undid his belt, and tried to take off his sandals – something he was not used to, as the faithful always raced to do it for him, each wanting to be the one to touch his skin – this is how good his life was. But when they went to fix him with nails, he said, “Leave me as I am, for he that gives me strength to endure the fire, will enable me not to struggle, without the help of your nails.”

Polycarp of Smyrna

Polycarp Prays: “So they simply bound him with his hands behind him like a distinguished ram chosen from a great flock for sacrifice. Ready to be an acceptable burnt-offering to God, he looked up to heaven, and said, “O Lord God Almighty, the Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of you, the God of angels, powers and every creature, and of all the righteous who live before you, I give you thanks that you count me worthy to be numbered among your martyrs, sharing the cup of Christ and the resurrection to eternal life, both of soul and body, through the immortality of the Holy Spirit. May I be received this day as an acceptable sacrifice, as you, the true God, have predestined, revealed to me, and now fulfilled. I praise you for all these things, I bless you and glorify you, along with the everlasting Jesus Christ, your beloved Son. To you, with him, through the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and forever. Amen.”

A Miracle: “Then the fire was lit, and the flame blazed furiously. We who were privileged to witness it saw a great miracle, and this is why we have been preserved, to tell the story. The fire shaped itself into the form of an arch, like the sail of a ship when filled with the wind, and formed a circle around the body of the martyr. Inside it, he looked not like flesh that is burnt, but like bread that is baked, or gold and silver glowing in a furnace. And we smelt a sweet scent, like frankincense or some such precious spices.”

The Death of Polycarp: “Eventually, when those wicked men saw that his body could not be consumed by the fire, they commanded an executioner to pierce him with a dagger. When he did this [a dove flew out and] [*this may well be a later interpolation or transcription error] such a great quantity of blood flowed that the fire was extinguished. The crowd were amazed at the difference between the unbelievers and the elect – of whom the great Polycarp was surely one, having in our own times been an apostolic and prophetic teacher, and bishop of the Catholic Church in Smyrna. For every word he spoke either has been or shall be accomplished.”

The Body: “When the Enemy saw the wonder of his martyrdom, his blameless life and now his crowning with immortality, he did his utmost to stop us keeping any memorial of him or taking possession of his holy body. He inspired Nicetes, the father of Herod, along with the Jews to ask the governor not to hand over his body for burial. “They might turn from worshipping the crucified one,” he said, “only to start worshipping this one.” They did not realize that it is impossible for us to abandon Christ who suffered for the salvation of the world, or to worship any other.”

Celebrations: The centurion then, seeing the disturbance caused by the Jews, took the body and publicly burnt it. Later, we collected up his bones, more precious than jewels and better purified than gold, and put them in an appropriate place where, the Lord willing, we shall celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom each year with joy and rejoicing, both to remember those who have run their race and to prepare those yet to walk in their steps.

St. Jerome and His Letter to a Soldier

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Gerome by Caravaggio
St. Jerome lived around A.D. 400. He is famous for making an early translation of the Bible into Latin called the Vulgate. It is the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church. St. John of the Cross also from Avila experienced ecstasies. St. Magnus was a Viking warrior who killed indiscriminately before his conversion.

St. Jerome is best known for his translation of the Bible into Latin. This letter to a friend — Jerome Letter 14 — was written in 374. “Pampered soldier, why are you wasting time in your father's house? Where is the rampart, the ditch, the winter campaign under canvas? Behold the trumpet sounds from heaven! Our General, fully armed, comes amid the clouds to overcome the world. From our King's mouth comes the double-edged sword that cuts down all in its path. Are you going to remain in your chamber and not come out to join in the battle? . . . Listen to your King's proclamation: "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters." [Source: D. Brendan Nagle and Stanley M. Burstein, eds., The Ancient World: Readings in Social and Cultural History (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1995) pp. 321-322., thenagain info dkoeller@sbcglobal.net]

“Remember when you joined up as a recruit, when buried with Christ in baptism, you took the oath of allegiance to him, declaring that you would spare neither your father nor your mother? But now the adversary in your own heart is trying to kill Christ! Now the enemy's camp has its sights on your loyalty! Though your little nephew twine his arms around your neck; though your mother, with disheveled hair and tearing her robe asunder, point to the breast with which she nourished you; though your father fall down on the threshold before you--trample on his body and go your way! Fly with tearless eyes to the standard of the Cross. In this matter cruelty is your duty . . .

“I know well the chains which you will say hinder you. Indeed, my breast is not made of iron, nor my heart of stone. I was not born from a rock or raised by Hyrcanian tigers. I have been through this experience too. Your widowed sister may throw her gentle arms around you. The household slaves, in whose company you grew up, will cry, "To what master are you abandoning us?" Your old nurse and her husband, who, after your own natural father, have the next claim to your devotion, say, "Wait awhile until we die so you can bury us!" Perhaps your foster mother, with sagging breasts and wrinkled face, will sing you your old childhood lullaby! . . . But the love of Christ and the fear of Gehenna will easily break such bonds.

Jerome and Augustine

“You will claim that the Scriptures command us to obey our parents. On the contrary, whoever loves his parents more than Christ, loses his own soul. If my enemy takes up a sword to kill me, will I be held back by my mother's tears? Should I desert from the army because of my father, to whom in the cause of Christ I owe no burial because in his cause I owe burial to everyone? . . . You may claim that all your fellow citizens are Christians, but your case is not the same as everyone else. Hear what the Lord has to say: "If you would be perfect, go and sell what you have and follow me." You promised to be perfect.

“When you resigned from the army and "made yourself an eunuch for the kingdom of Christ," what else had you in mind besides a perfect life? A perfect servant of Christ has nothing besides Christ. Indeed, if he has anything besides Christ, he is not perfect . . . If you are perfect, why do you pine for your father's property? But if you are not perfect, you have failed the Lord. The Gospel thunders the divine words: "You cannot serve two masters." Does anyone dare to make Christ a liar by serving Mammon and the Lord at the same time? Does he not say often, "If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me"? If I load myself with gold, do I imagine I am following Christ? . . .

“0 desert, green with the flowers of Christ! 0 solitude in which the stones of the Great City of the King mentioned in the Apocalypse are found! 0 wilderness rejoicing in the presence of God! Brother, what are you doing in the world when you are so much more important than the world? How long are the shadows of a roof going to hold you back? How long will the smoky dungeon of these cities imprison you? . . . How refreshing to fling off the burdens of the flesh and fly to the sparkling aether? . . . You are spoiled indeed, dear friend, if you wish to rejoice here on earth--and afterwards reign with Christ!”

St. Valentine

St. Valentine was imprisoned by Roman Emperor Claudius Caesar II for overseeing the marriages of Roman soldiers, He was sentenced to death in A.D. 269 and clubbed, stoned and beheaded on February 24, 270. Born in Terni, Italy, he was canonized in the Middle Ages as the patron saint of lovers. According to one legend, St. Valentine was a priest who secretly married couples in defiance of a Roman edict forbidding marriage. According to another legend, he was imprisoned for failing to worship pagan gods. Before his execution he cured a jailers blind daughter and left behind a note signed "Your Valentine." Other link him to erotic festivals held in February. The custom of St. Valentine's Day began in 5th century Rome and took the place of a Roman ritual, that began as early as the forth century B.C., where teenage girls placed their names in a box and were selected by boys who paired off with girls and often and sex with them. The Benedictine priests of the Blessed John Duns Scotus Church in Glasgow insist that the remains of the saint's heart was given to them by the Vatican in 1868.

Reliquary of Saint Valentine in Poland

Saint Valentine's Day on 14th February is surrounded by mystery - which is no surprise when you consider that there were at least three different Saint Valentines. According to the BBC: “The celebrations of St. Valentine's Day are steeped in legend and mystery; indeed the motives behind the day's creation and even St. Valentine himself have been shrouded in controversy and doubt. Saint Valentine's Day embraces a time of year that is historically associated with love and fertility. It encompasses the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera in Ancient Athens and the Ancient Roman festival of Lupercus, the god of fertility. [Source: BBC, July 31, 2009 |::|]

“The priests of Lupercus would perform a traditional purification ritual, slaughtering goats to the god, and after consuming wine, they would run through the streets of Rome holding aloft the skins of the goats touching anyone they met. The occasion compelled floods of young women to the streets in the belief that being touched would improve their chances of conceiving and bring forth easy childbirth. There remains some speculation over the exact date of the celebration. |::|

“The first official Saint Valentine's Day was declared on 14th of February by Pope Galasius in 496, in memory of a 3rd century martyred priest in Rome. It is not known for sure whether Pope Galasius was honouring this 3rd century priest or whether it was one of two other martyred priests associated with the 14th of February. One was Bishop of Interamna (modern Terni) and the other apparently suffered in Africa along with a number of companions. Nothing further is known about these two Saint Valentines and it is the priest in Rome that has become the most widely acclaimed of the three. |::|

“It is believed that the young priest rose to distinction after betraying Emperor Claudius in 270 AD by conducting illegitimate wedding ceremonies in the capital. Emperor Claudius claimed that married men made poor soldiers and consequently decreed that all marriages of younger citizens would be outlawed. Bishop Valentine, however, maintained that marriage was part of God's plan and purpose for the world. He continued to conduct marriages in secret between young people, sometimes as young as twelve, in the name of love. |::|

“His success gained him unwelcome notoriety, which became Bishop Valentine's downfall. He was jailed and ultimately beheaded, but not before he fell in love with the jailer's daughter. It is thought that on the evening of his execution the bishop passed her a note which read "from your Valentine". This story has blossomed into the defining tradition of Valentine's Day. An estimated one billion cards sent each year, making it the second largest card-sending holiday of the year behind Christmas. |::|

“Valentine's Day has spawned celebrations of love beyond western culture. In Japan and Korea, Valentine's has become almost an obligation for women to give chocolates, known as giri-choco, to all of their co-workers. A reciprocal day on 14th of March known as White Day has emerged in recent times whereby men are supposed to thank those who remembered them on Valentine's Day with white chocolate or marshmallows, hence white day. In Korea there is an additional Black Day, held the following month on the 14th of April, for less fortunate men who did not receive gifts on Valentine's Day to gather together to eat Jajangmyun, Chinese style black noodles topped with a black sauce. |::|

St. Vincent of Lerins

Saint Vincent preaches to a crowd

Saint Vincent of Lérins (died c. 445CE) was a Gallic monk and author of early Christian writings. The Commonitorium, c. 434, offers guidance in the orthodox teaching of Christianity. His feast day is celebrated on May 24.

The "Vincentian Canon" (A.D. 434) reads: (1) I have continually given the greatest pains and diligence to inquiring, from the greatest possible number of men outstanding in holiness and in doctrine, how I can secure a kind of fixed and, as it were, general and guiding principle for distinguishing the true Catholic Faith from the degraded falsehoods of heresy. And the answer that I receive is always to this effect; that if I wish, or indeed if anyone wishes, to detect the deceits of heretics that arise and to avoid their snares and to keep healthy and sound in a healthy faith, we ought, with the Lord's help, to fortify our faith in a twofold manner, firstly, that is, by the authority of God's Law, then by the tradition of the Catholic Church. [Source: From Chapter 4 of the Commonitorium, A.D. 434, ed. Moxon, Cambridge Patristic Texts, sourcebooks.fordham.edu]

(2) Here, it may be, someone will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and is in itself abundantly sufficient, what need is there to join to it the interpretation of the Church? The answer is that because of the very depth of Scripture all men do not place one identical interpretation upon it. The statements of the same writer are explained by different men in different ways, so much so that it seems almost possible to extract from it as many opinions as there are men. Novatian expounds in one way, Sabellius in another, Donatus in another, Arius, Eunomius and Macedonius in another, Photinus, Apollinaris and Priscillian in another, Jovinian, Pelagius and Caelestius in another, and latterly Nestorius in another. Therefore, because of the intricacies of error, which is so multiform, there is great need for the laying down of a rule for the exposition of Prophets and Apostles in accordance with the standard of the interpretation of the Church Catholic.

(3) Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all. That is truly and properly 'Catholic,' as is shown by the very force and meaning of the word, which comprehends everything almost universally. We shall hold to this rule if we follow universality [i.e. oecumenicity], antiquity, and consent. We shall follow universality if we acknowledge that one Faith to be true which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is clear that our ancestors and fathers proclaimed; consent, if in antiquity itself we keep following the definitions and opinions of all, or certainly nearly all, bishops and doctors alike.

(4) What then will the Catholic Christian do, if a small part of the Church has cut itself off from the communion of the universal Faith? The answer is sure. He will prefer the healthiness of the whole body to the morbid and corrupt limb. But what if some novel contagion try to infect the whole Church, and not merely a tiny part of it? Then he will take care to cleave to antiquity, which cannot now be led astray by any deceit of novelty. What if in antiquity itself two or three men, or it may be a city, or even a whole province be detected in error? Then he will take the greatest care to prefer the decrees of the ancient General Councils, if there are such, to the irresponsible ignorance of a few men. But what if some error arises regarding which nothing of this sort is to be found? Then he must do his best to compare the opinions of the Fathers and inquire their meaning, provided always that, though they belonged to diverse times and places, they yet continued in the faith and communion of the one Catholic Church; and let them be teachers approved and outstanding. And whatever he shall find to have been held, approved and taught, not by one or two only but by all equally and with one consent, openly, frequently, and persistently, let him take this as to be held by him without the slightest hesitation.

Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas(1224-74) is regarded by the Catholic church as its greatest theologian and philosopher. He wrote Summa Theoligoca , considered one of the greatest books ever written. It's purpose was nothing less than trying to answer all of the great questions about God, humanity and the universe. He was canonized in 1323 and declared a doctor of the church in 1567. Based on the number of books written about him (1,424 in 1999 in the Library of Congress collection), Thomas Aquinas is the world's 27th most famous person. He ranks behind Jesus and Wagner but ahead of Cervantes and St. Paul.

Thomas Aquinas (also known as Thomas of Aquino) was born in the castle of Roccasecca, near Naples. His father was a count. He received an early education at the nearby abbey of Monte Cassino and entered the University of Naples at the age of 16. While he was there he became a Dominican friar, much to his family’s dismay. His brother captured and imprisoned him in Roccasecca. He refused to back down from his commitment to be a monk, continuing his studies in his cell. After two years he escaped down a rope ladders and was sent by the Dominicans to Cologne to study under Albertus Magnus, regarded as the most learned man of his time. He later studied in Paris.

In 1252, Thomas was called to Rome. He spent the rest of his life lecturing, preaching, writing and studying, chiefly in Italian cities and Paris. He died at the age of 49 while on his way to attend a church council in Lyons. His literary output was enormous. Sometimes he dictated to several scribes on different subjects at the same times. His primary works were Summa Contra Gentiles and Summa Theologica .

Thomas has been linked to the rise of learning and scholarship that took place during the time in which he lived, when many of Europe’s first universities were founded and education w as linked with the church. Early thinkers like Thomas accepted Christian doctrines as beyond dispute but also studied and translated the ancient Greek philosophers, particularly Plato and Aristotle, and set about harmonizing their ideas with Christianity.

Seven Deadly Sins and Other Contributions of Thomas Aquinas

The writing and theories of St. Thomas Aquinas are the cornerstone of the Roman Catholic church. In 1268-73, Aquinas merged scientific inquiry and Christian thought while ruminating about Aristotle's physical studies and trying to figure the best way to investigate God's plan for mankind. Thomas held that there were two sources of knowledge: revelation (theology) and reason (philosophy) and suggested that revelation was a divine source of knowledge that revealed truths that must be believed by men even if they cannot be understood.

Aquinas said "Christ was either a liar, lunatic of Lord.” He expressed anti-Semitic views and blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus. He referred to sex as "lust" and maintained that the only justifiable sex was sex intended for procreation. He also described four kinds of offensive sex (in descending order of offensiveness): 1) bestiality; 2) homosexuality; 3) any sex position other than the face-to-face "missionary" position; and 4) masturbation, which for men he said was effeminate.

Thomas Aquinas described the Seven Deadly Sins: sloth, gluttony, pride, anger, envy, greed, and lust. Some of the sins are more complex than what they appear on the surface. Gluttony, for example, according to Aquinas, has five forms: overeating, eating too soon, eating too eagerly, eating too daintily and spending too much on expensive foods. Aquinas said that gluttony was the least serious of the deadly sin. Perhaps this was so because he had a weight problem himself.

Thomas Aquinas’s Contributions to Christianity

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Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), "Doctor angelicus", Carl A. Volz wrote, “integrated Aristotelian philosophical principles with traditional speculative theology, and he created, by remolding and rethinking existing materials and old problems, wholly new and original Christian philosophy. He admitted into the Christian purview all the natural values of human social activity and by implication a host of other activities such as art. He insisted on a separation of the spheres of reason and revelation, the natural and the supernatural. It was through observation of external reality, not through the soul's direct consciousness of its own or of God's existence, that a proof of the First Cause could be found. It gave a new dignity to human reason by lending philosophical support to a conviction common to all men, that our knowledge comes from the universe around us. Truth is one! Grace does not destroy nature; it perfects nature. The first original philosophical system produced by Christianity. [Source: Carl A. Volz, late professor of church history at Luther Seminary, web.archive.org, martin.luthersem.edu /::\]

“It is frequently said that Aquinas reflected an alleged Dominican emphasis in stressing reason over will; whereas the Franciscans stressed will over reason. The Franciscans were more in debt to Augustine, the Dominicans to Aristotle. Man is born into the world of nature and he is determined by nature. He makes his decisions in terms of reason. Man can know that there is a God and this can be demonstrated by proofs. The reason for this is that creation is rational. Man can also know the moral life by reason. He can achieve a great deal through the application of reason, as witness Aristotle and all the ancients. But man as a creature of nature is incomplete. He lacks something and only God can supply this lack. Man receives Grace through Baptism, and in this state he lives by faith and not by reason. He accepts the truths of divine revelation. He assents to revelation. Faith does not seek proof; it is itself assent and approval. When man has entered this world of grace and has accepted the truths of divine revelation, faith determines reason! Reason may object to truths, but the man of faith who believes can employ reason to show that the truths of faith do not contradict reason. Faith is above reason. Faith determines reason. The truths of faith are higher than the truths of reason./::\

“Aquinas posits a sharp distinction between reason and faith. If in a large area reason is paramount, many of the fundamental Christian verities (Trinity, Incarnation, original sin) lie wholly beyond its province. But while such doctrines cannot be established by reason they must not be considered contrary to reason. Indeed, up to a point, reason can often indicate their probability and rebut arguments designed to overthrow them. Such doctrines reach us through revelation, which is embodied in Scripture and in the consistent teachings of the Fathers. As their province is that of faith, where primacy belongs to the will and not the intellect, their acceptance by the believer is a matter for moral decision. On the other hand, such truths as the existence of God, His eternity and simplicity, His creative power and providence, can be discovered by the natural reason altogether apart from revelation. /::\

“The Incarnation and Sacraments claimed his special interest. On contraverted matters he tended to follow the tradition of his Order. He held that all seven sacraments were instituted by Christ, that the Eucharist was the highest form of sacrament, and that as the ultimate purpose of the Sacrament of Order was the Eucharist, the Priesthood was the highest of the seven orders, and the Spiscopate therefore not a separate order. For the elaboration of the doctrine of transubstantiation which had been formally defined at the 4th Lateran Council in 1215, he employed the Aristotelian philosophy of substance and accidents. The concomitance of the Body and Blood of Christ in both Eucharistic species afforded theological justification for communion in one kind.

“"Summa contra Gentiles" was designed as a textbook for missionaries. It contains a defense of natural theology against the Arabians. The "Summa theologica", the highest achievement of medieval theological systematization, was the latest of his works and unfinished at his death.” /::\

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, biblegateway.com; “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” users.ox.ac.uk ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), translated by William Whiston, ccel.org , Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org, Frontline, PBS, “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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