Tuesday, 23 October 2007

On yer bike

A new experience in the City is cycling. I have been lent, I hope on a fairly permanent basis, a bike from a friend here which I use to pedal from place to place. There are one or two peculiarities that pertain to Rome:
1) There is a lot of traffic, many say. Well the amount of traffic is not so bad really but there is a great deal of it at certain times. Therefore the nervous cyclist must plan as to when are the better times to travel? A. Has he/she recently given up smoking? If so, driving in Roman traffic may return one to the habit, since the inhaling of fumes seems to be part of the course. B. On the other hand, if he/she is a smoker, cycling in the city may give a different experience of inhaling smoke, and so an addiction may quickly develop to driving through the City. C.Finally, a cyclist who is a smoker may discover that the very inhalation of a new form of smoke may encourage him to give up the habit - but you may end up with A..
2) There is a lot of crazy traffic, many say. There is more crazy traffic than a lot of traffic. Driving in Rome involves inhabiting spaces as a means of pushing forward: therefore a degree of daring and willingness to 'slip through' is rapidly developed by drivers, motorino riders and, amazingly, cyclists - and more amazingly, bus drivers. Here one must drive with WIT - Wrought Intelligent Thought - wrought, because only the experience of such formula 0 driving would cause such thinking; thought, because one must think a journey through and be aware of time factors in the time of journey commencement; and intelligent, because one must calculate, be aware, estimate, predict and risk. Ah risk. Well, that's where prayer to the Guardian Angels (we priest are meant to have two - and do we need them!) come to our aid and are the object of much intense invocation.
3) There are a lot of red lights in the City - but for most cyclists they can mean green when red...
and that goes for motorino riders too....and drivers...indeed, the population.
4) There is a lot to see in the City. When you cycle, look around. See the sights. See ancient Rome. See the colour and the beauty. But remember WIT.
5) Lock your bike. Many bikes get stolen. So lock it. I have inherited a colossal lock, a mighty chain to wind around the bike, with a clanking lock that makes me feel more turnkey than cyclist. It does the job. It scares them away.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Memorial of the great St Ignatius of Antioch

This evening I went to the Venerable English College on the Via Monserrato for Mass and supper. I was invited by the new member of staff who was my year of ordination, Fr Tony Milner. During the day I had continue to plod on with my reading of St Hilary's commentary on the psalms, all of which is inspiring and very fruitful. I do my work in the library of the Casa: most of the morning, then afternoon, and tonight I felt I could continue for an hour or so after I returned from the English College.

The English College was, of course, where I studied for the priesthood, from 1986 until 1993. it has changed in many ways - and yet remained the same: as is true for all of Rome! I was very impressed by the quality of the homily at this evening's Mass, celebrated on the memorial of St Ignatius of Antioch, martyred here in Rome at the Colosseum in 107 AD: the Deacon summed up beautifully the essential doctrine of Ignatius - his presentation of the unity of the mystery of the Church, the mystery of Christ and the mystery of the Eucharist all as one mystery uniting man and God. Ignatius was a remarkable man, aflame with desire for God, a flame inspired by the Spirit living within him, which burned away all worldliness and desire for earthly gain. As he himself says in today's Office of readings from his letter to the Romans:

Earthly longings have been crucified; in me there is left no spark of desire for mundane things, but only a murmur of living water that whispers within me, 'Come to the Father.'

The Latin is beautiful and redolent for those acquainted with the Bridgettines:

Amor meus crucifixus est, nec est in me ignis materiae amans; sed vivens et loquens aqua in me est, mihi interius dicens: 'Veni ad Patrem.'

The relics of St Ignatius are now reserved under the main altar of that beautiful church not far from the Colosseum - St Clement's: a marvellous three-fold descent into the Rome of Clement, involving an encounter with the cult of Mithras, with Clement himself and also Ss Cyril and Methodius from a later time, and others besides.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Latin today

Today I attended the introductory class of legendary Latin professor, Fr Reggie Foster. His passion for Latin and his equal passion for detractors of Latin and for non-enthusiasts make for a good afternoon. His unique system for teaching Latin is through his graded experiences. I have already done one experience, the first: I hope to move on now to third and fourth experience. It will be a lot of work but it will aid me in reading Hilary: the question is time but I think that the time devoted to this will pay off in the long run with Hilary. Reggie is a remarkable man - probably speaking Latin better than he does English - and that's meant as a compliment!

Here's what an article by Tom Heinen on http://www.jsonline.com/ says:

He is the pope's senior Latinist, a gifted and demanding linguist who did the lion's share of the translation when Pope Benedict XVI followed tradition and delivered the first formal speech as pontiff in Latin to the cardinals on the morning after being elected.
Known as Father Reggie to some friends and students, he also is an internationally renowned Latin teacher and a fluent speaker of complex, Ciceronian Latin, not to mention a world-class curmudgeon and quirky critic of the temporal and spiritual universes around him. His sometimes intemperate outbursts of personal opinions apparently are offset by an expertise that has enabled him to survive and to serve four popes over 36 years.
This is how Foster reacted when Karol Wojtyla began signing papal documents in Latin as "Joannes Paulus II" instead of "Ioannes Paulus II" after being elected pope 26 years ago. He quickly pointed out to a papal adviser that there is no letter "J" in Latin.
"I said, 'By the way, friend, there's no J,' " Foster recalled. "And the answer kind of came back that the pope said, 'Well, now there is.' Well, fine, fine. He's the boss. And if you look at his tomb, the J is gone. One of my brethren said, 'Well he enjoyed his J for 26 years, and now it's gone.' His tombstone has 'I.' "

Some lines from his classes:

"One letter in Latin will kill you."

"After you've learned everything about Latin, you still have to think."

"Latin will kill you... if you're not smart."

"Every Latin sentence has a trap."

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Pope Benedict and Hilary (not Clinton)

Pope Benedict's words on St Hilary:

On Hilary of Poitiers
"God Only Knows How to Be Love"VATICAN CITY, OCT. 10, 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today I would like to speak about a great Father of the Western Church, St. Hilary of Poitiers, one of the great bishops of the 4th century. Confronted with the Arians, who considered the Son of God a creature, albeit an excellent one, Hilary dedicated his life to the defense of faith in the divinity of Jesus Christ, Son of God, and God as the Father, who generated him from all eternity.
We do not have definitive data about most of Hilary's life. Ancient sources say that he was born in Poitiers, probably around the year 310. From a well-to-do family, he received a good literary education, which is clearly evident in his writings. It does not seem that he was raised in a Christian environment. He himself tells us about a journey of searching for the truth, which little by little led him to the recognition of God the creator and of the incarnate God, who died to give us eternal life. He was baptized around 345, and elected bishop of Poitiers around 353-354.
In the years that followed, Hilary wrote his first work, the "Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew." It is the oldest surviving commentary in Latin that we have on this Gospel. In 356, Hilary, as bishop, attended the Synod of Beziers in southern France, which he called the "Synod of the False Apostles," given that the assembly was dominated by bishops who were followers of Arianism, and thus negated the divinity of Jesus Christ. These "false apostles" asked Emperor Constantine to condemn to exile the bishop of Poitiers. So Hilary was forced to leave Gaul during the summer of 356.
Exiled to Phrygia, in present-day Turkey, Hilary found himself in contact with a religious environment totally dominated by Arianism. There, too, his pastoral solicitude led him to work tirelessly for the re-establishment of the Church’s unity, based on the correct faith, as formulated by the Council of Nicea. To this end, he began writing his most important and most famous dogmatic work: "De Trinitate" (On the Trinity).
In it, Hilary talks about his own personal journey toward knowing God, and he is intent on showing that Scriptures clearly attest to the Son's divinity and his equality with the Father, not only in the New Testament, but also in many pages of the Old Testament, in which the mystery of Christ is already presented. Faced with the Arians, he insists on the truth of the names of the Father and the Son and develops his entire Trinitarian theology departing from the formula of baptism given to us by the Lord himself: "In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit."
The Father and the Son are of the same nature. And if some passages of the New Testament could lead one to think that the Son is inferior to the Father, Hilary offers precise rules to avoid misleading interpretations: Some passages in Scripture speak about Jesus as God, others emphasize his humanity. Some refer to him in his pre-existence with the Father; others take into consideration his self lowering ("kenosis"), his lowering himself unto death; and lastly, others contemplate him in the glory of the resurrection.
During the years of his exile, Hilary also wrote the "Book of the Synod," in which, for his brother bishops of Gaul, he reproduces and comments on the confessions of faith and other documents of the synods which met in the East around the middle of the 4th century. Always firm in his opposition to radical Arians, St. Hilary showed a conciliatory spirit with those who accepted that the Son was similar to the Father in essence, naturally trying to lead them toward the fullness of faith, which says that there is not only a similarity, but a true equality of the Father and the Son in their divinity.
This also seems characteristic: His conciliatory spirit tries to understand those who still have not yet arrived to the fullness of the truth and helps them, with great theological intelligence, to reach the fullness of faith in the true divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In 360 or 361, Hilary was finally able to return from exile to his homeland and immediately resumed the pastoral work in his Church, but the influence of his teaching extended, in fact, well beyond its borders. A synod celebrated in Paris in 360 or 361 took up again the language used by the Council of Nicea. Some ancient authors think that this anti-Arian development of the bishops of Gaul was due, in large part, to the strength and meekness of the bishop of Poitiers.
This was precisely his gift: uniting strength of faith and meekness in interpersonal relationships. During the last years of his life, he wrote "Treatises on the Psalms," a commentary on 58 psalms, interpreted according to the principle highlighted in the introduction to the work: "There is no doubt that all the things said in the Psalms must be understood according to the Gospel proclamation, so that, independently of the voice with which the prophetic spirit has spoken, everything refers to the knowledge of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, incarnation, passion and kingdom, and the glory and power of our resurrection” ("Instructio Psalmorum," 5).
In all of the Psalms, he sees this transparency of Christ's mystery and of his body, which is the Church. On various occasions, Hilary met with St. Martin: The future bishop of Tours founded a monastery near Poitiers, which still exists today. Hilary died in 367. His feast day is celebrated on Jan. 13. In 1851, Blessed Pius IX proclaimed him a doctor of the Church.
To summarize the essential aspects of his doctrine, I would like to say that the starting point for Hilary's theological reflection is the baptismal faith. In "De Trinitate," he writes: Jesus "commanded to baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (cf. Matthew 28:19), that is to say, confessing the Author, the Only Begotten One and the Gift. One alone is the author of all things, because there is only one God the Father, from whom all things proceed. And one alone is our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things were made (1 Corinthians 8:6), and one alone is the Spirit (Ephesians 4:4), gift in everything. … Nothing can be found lacking in a plenitude that is so grand, in which converges in the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Spirit, the immensity of the Eternal, the revelation in the Image, the joy in the Gift" ("De Trinitate" 2:1).
God the Father, being all love, is able to communicate the fullness of his divinity to the Son. I find this phrase of St. Hilary to be particularly beautiful: "God only knows how to be love, only knows how to be Father. And he who loves is not envious, and whoever is Father, is so totally. This name does not allow for compromise, as if to say that God is father only in certain aspects and not in others” (ibid. 9:61).
For this reason, the Son is fully God without lacking anything or having any lessening: "He who comes from the perfect is perfect, because he who has everything, has given him everything" (ibid. 2:8). Only in Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, does humanity find salvation. Taking on human nature, he united every man to himself, "he became our flesh" ("Tractatus in Psalmos" 54:9); "he took on the nature of all flesh, thus becoming the true vine, the root of all branches" (ibid. 51:16).
Precisely because of this motive, the path to Christ is open to all -- because he drew everyone into his humanity -- even though personal conversion is always required: "Through the relationship with his flesh, access to Christ is open to everyone, provided that they leave aside the old man (cf. Ephesians 4:22) and nail him to his cross (cf. Colossians 2:14); provided they abandon their former works and are converted, in order to be buried with him in baptism, in view of life (cf. Colossians 1:12; Romans 6:4)" (ibid. 91:9).
Faithfulness to God is a gift of his grace. Therefore St. Hilary asks, at the end of his treatise on the Trinity, to be able to remain faithful to the faith of baptism. One of the characteristics of this book is this: Reflection is transformed into prayer and prayer leads to reflection. The entire book is a dialogue with God.
I would like to end today's catechesis with one of these prayers, that also becomes our prayer: "Grant, O Lord," Hilary prays in a moment of inspiration, "that I may remain faithful to that which I professed in the symbol of my regeneration, when I was baptized in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. That I may adore you, our Father, and together with you, your Son; that I may be worthy of your Holy Spirit, who proceeds from you through your only Son. … Amen” ("De Trinitate" 12:57).

"Happy Sunday!"

So I was wished by one of the resident priests here at the Casa. We have just celebrated Mass together: all is arranged calmly, efficiently and prayerfully. There are liturgists, yes, but they form that rare breed who like to read and use the rubrics of the Missal. I have been asked to be one of the assistant Masters of Ceremonies, given my experience in the role as Bishop's Chaplain, which I am very happy to do.

The House itself used to be a Dominican convent. The chapel is beautiful, clean and a place of real devotion. Later today we will have Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament there with Vespers and Benediction. All in all, it's a good place in which to experience and live Priesthood.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Trip to the Forum

Lastly, I took some time off my reading this morning to visit some of the Forum with Northampton Seminarian, Michael Patey. It is a sunny day here and we had a good time looking at the various relics of Rome's great past. Here is the Forum from this morning:

St Hilary of Poitiers

The picture in the title above depicts the ordination of St Hilary. He became a Catholic around 345 AD when he was baptised: he had grown up in a seemingly well-to-do family, having been born about 310, and had benefitted from a good education. Around 353-354 he was elected and ordained Bishop of Poitiers. His great learning quickly catapaulted him into the heart of the great Arian crisis in the West. He used his powerful intellect to articulate a clear doctrine of the Trinity, defending the true Divinity of Christ and also Christ's humanity, and he did so in a very original and tightly argued form. He wrote a number of works. In this he was also influenced by the theology of the Church in the East: he spent about 4 or 5 years in the East after being exiled to Phrygia by the then Arian Emperor Constans at the instigation of a group of heretical bishops. Even in the East he showed his characteristic courage in defending the Faith, so much so that he was allowed to return to the West - which sounds as if the Arians in the East could no longer cope with him. Back in the West he continued to preach the Faith, helping to reconcile heretical groups through his gentle and persuasive presentation of the Creed. Hilary finally died around 367, leaving a valuable corpus of works, much of which has influenced theology and liturgy in the West in numerous ways. He died after having a more peaceful period in which to reflect upon the Scriptures and he was the first Father of the West to develop a commentary on the Psalms.

Pope Benedict quoted a beautiful passage from St Hilary's writings last Wednesday: "God only knows how to be love, only knows how to be Father. And he who loves is not envious, and whoever is Father, is so totally. This name does not allow for compromise, as if to say that God is father only in certain aspects and not in others” (De Trinitate 9:61).

There is so much in Hilary which is incisive and yet beautiful, full of strength of Faith and humility before the Truth which is Christ.

I was very fortunate to visit Poitiers and you can still see there the earliest surviving baptistery in France. It was Hilary who ordered it to be built around 360. It has a nearly-full immersion font inside. Here is a picture of the baptistery...

and the font....

Sadly the Cathedral in Poitiers doesn't seem to give much honour to the first known Bishop of Poitiers. His relics are stuck in a corner by the altar of St Lawrence.


So, I have finally given in to Blogworld. I am afraid that this won’t be much of a blog; more of a blag really. But it will give me the opportunity to record some of what I am doing while here in Rome. It won’t be a diary, and I wouldn’t want to unleash upon the world my spiritual diary. It is what it is.

As for ‘Hilariter’: well, if you don’t know already, I am studying the works of St Hilary of Poitiers for a doctorate. The Holy Father gave his Wednesday audience this past week on the life and works of this great Bishop and Doctor of the Church: so if you want to know more about Hilarius, then read what Pope Benedict had to say. As ever, the fourth and fifth centuries of the Church are of direct importance for today’s Church – Arianism and Pelagianism are never too far away.

Having spent nearly 6 years at Bishop’s House in Northampton (November 2001 to August 2007), I have moved to the Casa Santa Maria, run by the North American College, here in Rome to pursue these studies. As you can see I have downsized somewhat! But it’s a good place and I am enjoying getting into the library each day to read and study and try to find some inspiration. The College or Casa is on the Via dell’Umiltà near the Trevi Fountain, and the Church is dedicated to Our Lady of Humility: I think Someone is trying to tell me something.

Bishop's House, Northampton....

My room now...