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ABOUT THE MARTYRS OF THE ALEXANDRIAN PLAGUE

Today, 28th February, the Church remembers the heroic charitable acts of the Martyrs of the Alexandrian Plague.

In the middle of the third century, a plague spread through much of the Roman Empire. The illness was so lethal and so contagious that it was reported that in one day over 5,000 people died in Rome. The plague was similarly catastrophic in Alexandria, Egypt.

Frightened by the plague, many of the pagan residents of Alexandria left the city and abandoned those who were victims of this terrible disease. People were left to die alone and to remain unburied on the streets.

Amidst these horrors a great number of Christians of the city, priests and people, chose to stay behind and voluntarily nurse the dying and bury the dead. This was remarkable for two reasons. Firstly, it would be quite certain that these Christians would catch the plague from the victims they tended and undergo great suffering and death themselves. Secondly, as the Christian community had been heavily persecuted at that time in Alexandria, they were actually tending to the cruel persecutors who had tortured them.

The Bishop of Alexandria, St Dionysius, wrote accounts of the great charity shown by the local Christians. “Most of the brethren were prodigal in their love and brotherly kindness. They supported one another, visited the sick fearlessly, and looked after them without stint, serving them in Christ. They were happy to die with them, bearing their neighbour’s burdens and taking the disease and pain on themselves, even to death which they caught from them. They put reality into what we look on as a courteous formula, accepting death as “humble servants” of one another. Such religious dutifulness and strength of faith seems not to fall short of martyrdom itself.” St Dionysius goes [on to note in] the report that, “the pagans behaved very differently.

The identity of these Alexandrian Christians as martyrs was later promulgated in the Church’s book of recognised saints, the Roman Martyrology.

St Gregory of Nyssa wrote, “Christianity is an imitation of God’s nature.” Those who practise Christianity perfectly will always act differently to “pagans”, as mentioned by St Dionysius, because they imitate Jesus Christ, who showed such great love to those in need beyond the normal calling of women and men.

– From: “Spiritual Thought from Fr Chris”, 2/2016

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“THE CHURCH OF CHRIST, THE KINGDOM OF GOD ON EARTH, HAS BEEN HATED AND PERSECUTED ALWAYS”

“FOR MY NAME’S SAKE

‘If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before you. If you were of the world, the world would love what is its own. But because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you… If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you also; if they have kept my word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for my name’s sake, because they do not know him who sent me… Yes, the hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering worship to God. And these things they will do because they have not known the Father nor me. But these things I have spoken to you, that when the time for them has come you may remember that I told you.” (John 15:18-19, 20-21; 16:2-4).

GOD HAS CHOSEN TO RESPECT THE FREE WILLS OF MEN

One of the most convincing signs that free will – the free wills of God, men and the devils – is the basic significant factor in the course of human history is to be seen in the fact that the world has not accepted Jesus and His kingdom without opposition, without violence.

Since God is all powerful it is easy to imagine that He might, if He had so willed, have compelled all men to accept Him and to accept membership in His kingdom. Whether or not this is really possible, the fact is that He has not done so. By a sovereign decision of His own free will God has chosen to respect the free wills of men and of the demonic spirits who have rejected Him and hate men.

THE CONTINUATION OF JESUS HIMSELF IN HUMAN HISTORY

When God became man as Jesus of Nazareth, He subjected Himself to the free wills of men and the devils. He did not overwhelm the devils with His almighty power and prevent them completely from interfering in the affairs of men. Nor did He subjugate the free wills of men and compel them by force to enter His kingdom. Instead He allowed the devils to influence men as they would, and to men He appealed only with the weapons of truth, divine signs and His grace. He left it to the free wills of men to make the choice between sin and redemption, between hating Him and loving Him, between working with Him and working against Him.

IN HIS KINGDOM ON EARTH, AS IN HIMSELF, MEN COULD FIND REDEMPTION

His kingdom on earth, so He said, the continuation of Himself in human history, would be in the same position as He Himself had been. In it, as in Himself, men could find redemption. But they would be free to enter it, to leave it or to reject it; to work with it for the redemption of the world or to work against it to their own condemnation. And thus, through the ignorance, the weakness and the malice of men and devils the kingdom would, like Jesus Himself, be hated and persecuted.

IN ITS INFANCY THE CHURCH OF CHRIST, THE KINGDOM OF GOD ON EARTH, WAS PERSECUTED BY THE JEWS

The Church of Christ, the Kingdom of God on earth, has been hated and persecuted always. In its infancy it was persecuted by the Jews. The Sanhedrin arrested the Apostles, had them beaten and cast into prison for preaching the message of Jesus crucified and risen from the dead. In the year 42 A.D., Herod Agrippa instituted a systematic persecution of the Christians in his land. St James the Greater perished during this persecution and the other Apostles left Jerusalem.

THE PERSECUTION UNDER EMPEROR NERO

As the Christian Church grew throughout the Roman Empire it became subject to persecution by the government, both local and imperial. The first known persecution of the Christians by the imperial government took place during the reign of the Emperor Nero. Nero had ordered the burning of part of the city of Rome. To divert the anger of the populace from himself he blamed the atrocity on the Christians. In the year 64 there was a mass execution of some Christians, who were coated with pitch and burned like torches in the gardens on the Vatican Hill. In the year 67 St Peter was crucified, head downwards, and St Paul was beheaded.

WERE THERE ROMAN LAWS TO KILL CHRISTIANS?

Whether or not Nero passed a law against the profession and practice of Christianity is still a matter of dispute among historians. Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 230) , who became a Christian in the year 197, seems to say that Nero had done so. Later historians think that Christians may have been persecuted under already existing laws.

THE REIGN OF DOMITIAN

At any rate, persecution of Christians broke out again during the reign of Domitian (81-96). Flavius Clemens (a relative of Domitian) and his wife and niece suffered during this persecution. Flavius was put to death and his wife and niece were banished.

THERE IS EVIDENCE THAT CHRISTIANS WERE PERSECUTED SIMPLY BECAUSE THEY BELONGED TO THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

At the beginning of the third century during the reign of Trajan there is evidence that Christians were persecuted simply because they belonged to the Catholic Church. Pliny the Younger had been sent by the emperor to administer the province of Bithynia. There he found that so many of the people had become Christians that a large number of the old pagan temples were no longer functioning. The farmers and merchants who had previously provided animals, birds, grains and wine for the pagan sacrifices were angry at the loss of their business. They complained about it to Pliny. Christians were denounced.

‘I OREDERED THEM TO BE EXECUTED’

Pliny was not quite sure what to do about the situation. Writing to the Emperor Trajan for advice, he said, ‘I do not know what means and limits are to be observed in examining or punishing them… This is the way I have dealt with those who have been denounced to me as Christians: I asked them if they were Christians. If they admitted that they were, I asked them again a second and a third time, threatening them with capital punishment. If they still persevered, I ordered them to be executed. For I felt certain that whatever it was that they professed, their contumacy and inflexible obstinacy obviously demanded punishment.’

‘FOR NO OTHER REASON THAN THAT THEY WERE MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH’

Trajan in his reply set down some norms for handling the situation. The authorities were not to institute a search for Christians on their own initiative. But if anyone was denounced to the magistrates as a Christian, and he admitted it, he was to be punished, ‘but with this restriction: if anyone says that he is not a Christian, and shall actually prove it by adoring our gods, he shall be pardoned as being repentant, even though he may have been suspect in the past.’

This letter of Trajan makes it clear that Christians were persecuted for no other reason than that they were members of the Christian Church and, as such, refused to adore the gods of the state. It is clear also that a Christian might escape punishment simply by performing a ritual act of adoration to the pagan gods of Rome. The simplicity with which Christians might escape punishment makes it all the more remarkable that many remained faithful to their belief in Jesus and refused to sacrifice to the pagan gods. The fact that magistrates must punish Christians when they are denounced meant, too, that Christians were at the mercy of the whims or the hate of their non-Christian neighbours.

MARCUS AURELIUS REWARDED THOSE WHO DENOUNCED CHRISTIANS TO THE AUTHORITIES

That the people generally were opposed to Christians is shown by the fact that during the reign of Emperor Hadrian (117-138) a governor in Asia asked the emperor how he should deal with anti-Christian riots. Hadrian and Antonius Pius (138-161) forbade mob action against Christians but reaffirmed the position of Trajan. Marcus Aurelius (161-180), moved by the popular outcry that Christians were responsible for the calamities which afflicted his reign, persecuted Christians more actively and rewarded those who denounced them to the authorities.

EMPEROR SEPTIMIUS SEVERUS, IN TURN, FORBADE ANYONE TO BECOME A CHRISTIAN

In the year 202 A.D. the. Emperor Septimius Severus. Forbade anyone to become a Christian. Maximin the Thracian (235-238) published a general edict for the whole empire aimed against the leaders of the Christian people. His persecution was of short duration, but it established the dangerous precedent of general edicts against Christians.

‘CHRISTIANITY HAD TO BE DESTROYED’

This precedent was taken up vigorously by the Emperor Decius. Decius, in an attempt to reinvigorate within the empire the old Roman ideals and virtues, decided to strengthen the hold of the old Roman gods on the people. Christianity therefore had to be destroyed. By imperial edict it was decreed that on a certain day throughout the empire those suspected of being unwilling to worship the old gods were to appear before the magistrates and show their loyalty by sacrificing to the old gods. Certificates would be issued to all those who showed themselves to be good pagans. For those who refused the ultimate penalty was death.

POPE FABIAN AND BISHOP ALEXANDER WERE EXECUTED FOR REFUSING TO SACRIFICE TO THE PAGAN GODS

The simultaneous carrying out of this edict throughout the empire took the Christians by surprise. Many of them fell victim to panic and performed the pagan ritual act prescribed and were given certificates which saved them from imprisonment and death. But many, even in these trying circumstances, remained faithful to Jesus and refused to sacrifice to the pagan gods. Some of these such as Pope Fabian and Bishop Alexander at Jerusalem were executed. Other less important figures were thrown into prison and tortured in the attempt to make them give up their membership in the Church.

IN 257 IT WAS DECREED THAT ALL THE CHURCH’S PRIESTS AND BISHOPS WERE TO BE SUMMONED TO FORCE THEM TO LEAVE THE CHURCH AND WORSHIP THE ANCIENT ROMAN GODS INSTEAD OF JESUS CHRIST

Under the Emperor Valerian another general persecution was undertaken by the imperial government. In 257 it was decreed that all the bishops and priests of the Church were to be summoned and made to sacrifice to the pagan gods. The faithful were not to take part in any of the liturgical reunions of the Church. The priests who refused were to be exiled. Cemeteries belonging to Christians and other places of worship were seized by the state. In 258 Valerian decreed that priests who refused to sacrifice to the gods were to be executed. Members of the aristocracy who refused to renounce their membership in the Church were to be exiled and their estates confiscated. When Valerian was taken captive by the Persians, the persecution died down.”

‘MOST HORRIBLE TORTURES IN THE ATTEMPT TO DESTROY THE CHURCH’

It was renewed during the reign of Diocletian in the year 303. Urged on by Galerius, whom he had associated with himself in the government of the empire, Diocletian took measures to stamp out the Christian religion. In his first edict of February 24, 303, Diocletian ordered that Christians were not to assemble for worship, Christian Churches were to be closed, the sacred writings of the Church were to be destroyed. Nobles who refused to renounce Christianity were to lose their rank, free men who refused were to be enslaved, and slaves were to remain forever slaves. A little later Diocletian decreed that those who refused to give up their profession of Christianity were to be put to death. This was the most severe of all the Roman persecutions of the Church. Christians were arrested wholesale throughout the empire and submitted to the most terrible tortures in the attempt to destroy the Church.

IN FACT THE CHURCH HAS ENCOUNTERED THIS HATRED IN EVERY AGE

In the Eastern empire the persecutions lasted until 311. In the Western empire it ceased when Constantine the Great became emperor in 306. In 313 the edict of Milan made Christianity one of the recognised religions of the empire, and the persecution of the Church within the empire ceased.

We have no certain knowledge of the number of Christians who were arrested, imprisoned, tortured, deprived of rank or property, or executed during these persecutions. It is quite probable, however, that the number of those afflicted during the troubled times of the third and fourth centuries far exceeded the number of those who suffered in the first two centuries. In the persecutions under Decius, Valerian and Diocletian it is probable that many thousands suffered. What is more important than the number of those who actually suffered for their faith is the fact that all during the first three centuries of its existence the members of the Kingdom of God on earth had to live constantly in fear of having to suffer for their adherence to Jesus Christ. As Jesus had suffered for them, so they had to be ready to suffer for Him.

Though the Church gained the right to a peaceful existence within the empire by the edict of Milan [under Emperor Constantine], this did not mean that the world which hated Christ ceased to hate His Church. In fact the Church has encountered this hatred in every age.

During the Roman persecutions many Christians had fled from the empire to Persia. There, because of the hostility of the Persians to the empire, they had been welcomed. But when peace was established between the Church and the empire, the attitude of the Persians changed. From 410 on, the Persians began to persecute the Church.

From the end of the seventh century and on, the Moslems, followers of Mohammed, made it difficult for Christians to practise their faith in all the lands which they conquered, chiefly the lands on the southern side of the Mediterranean basin.

We must remember also that many of the missionaries who carried the Gospel to the pagan lands and many of their first converts had to suffer at the hands of their non-Christian countrymen.

Violent opposition to the Kingdom of God, such as was manifested by imperial Rome, has occurred every so often during the centuries from Jesus to the present time. Sometimes it was due to a hatred of Jesus and His followers. For this reason the Persians harassed Christians in the fifth and sixth centuries. In the seventh century twenty thousand Christians were put to death by Dhu Nuwas in Yemen. In the ninth century the Muslims attacked Christians in Egypt. In the twelfth century the Albigensians in Languedoc attacked the Catholics there. In the twentieth century communist foes in Russia, Mexico, Spain, China, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Jugoslavia, Bulgaria and Romania have imprisoned or killed bishops and priests and laymen.

BISHOPS, PRIESTS AND LAYMEN IMPRISONED OR KILLED

At other times the Kingdom of God has been subject to persecution even by those who profess to follow Jesus and be members of His kingdom. Thus in the eighth century the emperors at Constantinople, rejecting the use of images in public worship, deposed, arrested and in some cases put to death bishops and priests who refused to accept the imperial iconoclasm. In the sixteenth century, when the so-called Protestant Reform of the Church took place, Catholics, members of the true Kingdom of God, were subjected to harassment in the kingdoms or principalities where Protestantism triumphed. The true faith was outlawed, priests were expelled or killed for administering the sacraments of the Church. Active opposition to the true Church on the part of Protestant states has continued down to the present, though with lessening severity.

Frequently, too (one is tempted to say, almost constantly), relations between earthly governments and the Church of God have been strained, so severely strained as to prevent the Church from acting freely in its mission to save mankind. Thus, in the fourth century some of the emperors favoured the Arian heresy against the true faith. In the eighth, as we have already mentioned, the emperors sought to promote iconoclasm. From the Middle Ages down to recent times many Christian rulers attempted to gain control of the Church by claiming for themselves the right to nominate bishops in the Church. Popes Gregory VII, Innocent III and Boniface VIII had to struggle to prevent the sovereigns of Europe from seizing control of the Church. The energy displayed by the Papacy in repulsing these attempts led to opposition to the Papacy. This, in part, accounts for the eagerness with which the Germanic princes of northern Europe gave up their allegiance to the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century. By joining the Protestant revolt they were enabled to gain control of religion in their own territories. Opposition to the Papacy also accounts in part for the rise of Gallicanism in France and Josephism in Austria and the Netherlands.

DENYING THE EXISTENCE OF GOD ALTOGETHER

Opposition to the Church has been found also in the world of thought and intellect. In the time of imperial Rome the pagan philosopher Celsus wrote against the Church. In modern times the philosophers of subjectivism, idealism, positivism, materialism, and their intellectual children, the socialists and the communists, have attacked the Church. By denying the existence of God or the spirituality and immortality of the human soul, they have attempted to destroy those fundamental beliefs of mankind which provide a rational basis for religion.

‘GROWING PAINS’

It should be mentioned also that the Kingdom of God in its growing life in the world has experienced a constant succession of growing pains in the form of heresies, deviations from the true content of the divine revelation which Jesus gave to mankind. From the beginning until now the minds of some men, confronted with the profound mysteries which God has revealed, have gone astray. Refusing to listen to the voice of God’s appointed heralds, the Apostles and their successors (the Pope and Bishops of the Church), they have invented doctrines of their own and presented them to the world as God’s message to men.

In this world, then, the Kingdom of God is as Jesus had said it would be, a kingdom persecuted by men, its members hailed before kings and princes and put to death for their faith in Christ, sometimes even put to death in His Name.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959 (Headings in capital letters added afterwards)

 

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MANKIND’S SALVATION HISTORY THROUGH THE HOLY ROSARY: THE JOYFUL MYSTERIES “ANNOUNCIATION” AND “VISITATION”

MATERIALLY A ‘GOLDEN AGE’

“To the people of the ancient Roman empire it may have seemed as if the establishment of the empire would bring to mankind a golden age in the history of man. From Parthia in the East to Britain in the West the power of Roman arms and the shrewdness of Roman diplomacy had brought that order in tranquillity which is peace. And with peace had come prosperity and culture.

EMPERORS WERE WORSHIPPED AS GODS

In accordance with the belief of the times the blessings of peace were attributed to the ruler, to the emperor of Rome. People were accustomed to consider the ruler as in some way descended from or related to the gods. In virtue of this close relationship to the gods the ruler was the source of all the prosperity of his people.

In such a climate of belief it was natural enough that both the people and the rulers themselves should regard a ruler as himself a god. The Ptolemies of Egypt held themselves as the direct descendants of the gods. Antiochus IV, of the Seleucid dynasty in Syria and Palestine, had called himself Epiphanes, that is, ‘God manifested.’ The Roman emperors, from Augustus Caesar on, were worshipped as gods.

THEY BELIEVED THAT THE GODS WERE SMILING ON THEM

The vast extent of the Roman Empire, its enormous wealth, the clear rationality of its Hellenistic culture, the stabilising influence of Roman law, all these, combined with the popular belief in the divinity of the emperors, must have nourished in the minds of men the thought that the gods were smiling on mankind, the idea that God, or the gods, was with men, bringing in an era of beneficient peace.

OF DEEPER SIGNIFICANCE

In a sense the people of the Roman Empire were right, and in a sense they were wrong. Peace was being ushered into the world of men, but it was not simply the political and economic peace which they were consciously experiencing. God was with men, but the emperor was not the God in question. God was smiling upon men, but His smile was much more significant than they imagined.

THE ONE AND TRUE GOD WAS COMING THROUGH THE UNIVERSALLY DESPISED JEWS

Rome and its emperor and the peace and prosperity they brought were only secondary elements in the great drama of human history. Strangely enough, the peace of God and God Himself were coming to all men, not in Rome or in the person of the emperor, not through the most peaceful nor the most powerful elements of the empire, but through and in the Jews, the most turbulent and the most universally despised group within the empire.

THE PRINCE OF PEACE ARRIVES UNEXPECTEDLY

That the blessings of true peace would come to the world through the Jews was not, of course, an idea unfamiliar to the Jews themselves. Their faith in Jahweh had led them to. Expect it to come to pass. But to the Gentile world of the empire it would have seemed absurd. Yet this was God’s design, and it came to pass in the time of the Roman Empire. Moreover, it came to pass in a way that was surprising and unexpected both to Jews and to Gentiles alike. So surprising and so unexpected was it that the most startling reversal of roles in history took place; the Jews who had awaited it refused it, and the Gentiles who had not expected it ultimately accepted it.

A MOST STARTLING REVERSAL OF ROLES

It is this coming of God’s peace to all men which we must now examine in its historical circumstances. Its coming was in this wise.

A PIECE OF ‘UNBELIEVABLE’ NEWS

In the days of Herod the Great, King of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zachary. He was married to Elizabeth, also a descendant of Aaron. They were old and childless. One day while he was burning incense to Jahweh in the Temple at Jerusalem, an angel of God appeared to him and said: ‘Fear not, Zachary, for thy prayer is heard: and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son. And thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness: and many shall rejoice in his nativity. For he shall be great before the Lord and shall drink no wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. And he shall convert many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias: that he may turn the hearts of the fathers unto the children and the incredulous to the wisdom of the just, to prepare unto the Lord a perfect people’ (Luke 1:13-17).

JOHN THE BAPTIST’S FATHER DID NOT BELIEVE THE ANGEL

Because of the advanced age of himself and his wife, Zachary was loath to believe this. For his lack of faith the angel Gabriel struck him dumb until the birth of the child.

MEANWHILE, IN THE COUNTRYSIDE…

[THE FIRST JOYFUL MYSTERY: THE ANNUNCIATION]

Meanwhile, in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy the angel Gabriel again appeared, this time to a virgin named Mary who was espoused to Joseph, a carpenter of Nazareth, of the House of David. ‘Hail, full of grace,’ he said to her, ‘the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women… Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb and shalt bring forth a son: and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father: and he shall reign in the house of Jacob forever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end’ (Luke 1:28-33).

A SIGNIFICANT QUESTION

Mary replied to Gabriel: ‘How shall this be done, because I know not man?’ (Luke 1:34). Now, since Mary was betrothed to Joseph, a descendant of King David, and so could in the natural course of events have expected to bear children who would be descendants of David, this question might seem very naïve. But we must remember that we are here concerned with a divine communication to a person apparently highly favoured by God, a virgin ‘full of grace,’ a virgin who is destined to be the mother of the ‘Son of the Most High.’ It would be naïve to suspect her of such childish naivete.

PIOUS VOWS OF VIRGINITY WERE NOT UNCOMMON AT THE TIME

It seems more likely, as theologians tell us, that Mary had made a vow of virginity and wished, if it were not against the will of God, to keep the vow. Hence her question really meant, ‘How shall this be done, since I have vowed not to know man?’

It is true that Mary was betrothed to Joseph and intended to marry him. We must, therefore, suppose that Joseph (perhaps in common with the ideas of the Essenes, a Jewish sect of that time) was of the same mind as Mary in this matter of virginity and intended to practise virginity with her in the married state.

GOD HAD NO INTENTION OF ASKING HER TO GIVE UP HER VOW

In his reply to Mary the angel Gabriel revealed to her that God had no intention of asking her to give up her vow of virginity. Instead God would bring her to conceive without the agency of any man: ‘The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God’ (Luke 1:35). Her child, then, is to have no father but God.

A DIVINE SIGN

Though Mary had asked for no divine sign that this mysterious conception and birth-giving might come to pass, nevertheless the angel gives her a sign: ‘And behold thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren. Because no word shall be impossible with God’ (Luke 1:36-37).

MARY’S ‘FIAT’

At that moment there took place the most momentous free decision ever made by any human being. Mary, the virgin of Nazareth, consented to be the mother of the ‘Son of the Most High.’ ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord,’ she said, ‘be it done to me according to thy word’ (Luke 1:38).

EVERY JEWISH PERSON KNEW THE PROPHECIES ABOUT THE AWAITED MESSIAH

Whether or not Mary knew the complete identity of the Child Who became flesh in her womb at that moment, this much at least she must have realised, that He was the Messias, the Anointed One of Israel. Had not the angel told her to call her son Jesus, that is, Jahweh is a saviour? Had not the angel called him the ‘Son of the Most High’ and the ‘Son of God’? Had Gabriel not said that Jesus would inherit the throne of David His father? Had he not said that the reign of Jesus on the throne of David would be eternal? Who could this Jesus be but the Promised One of Israel? Might not Mary have thought at that moment of the words of Isaias [Isaiah]: “For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us, and the government is upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace. His empire shall be multiplied, and there shall be no end of peace. He shall sit upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom: to establish it and strengthen it with judgment and with justice, from henceforth and forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this’? (Isaias 9:6-7).

‘BLESSED ART THOU THAT HAST BELIEVED’

[THE SECOND JOYFUL MYSTERY: THE VISITATION]

The impression that something extraordinary, something marvellous is happening is strengthened by what follows after this mysterious interchange between God and the Virgin of Nazareth. Mary, moved no doubt by a concern for her aged cousin Elizabeth who, according to the words of Gabriel, was already six months with child, went with haste to the town of Juda in which her cousin lived. When she entered the house of Elizabeth, her cousin, filled with the spirit of God, cried out: ‘Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb! And whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord’ (Luke 1:42-44).

JOHN THE BAPTIST FELT JESUS CHRIST’S PRESENCE

Under the inspiration of God Elizabeth realised both that Mary was with child and that the child was, in some way, her Lord. Moreover, Elizabeth’s own child in the darkness and silence of her own womb felt himself in the presence of One Who would bring joy to the world, and so he stirred in exultation because of this wondrous presence.

THE MAGNIFICAT IS SPOKEN FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER

Mary, in her turn, was filled with the spirit of God and she spoke that wonderful acknowledgement of God’s design which the world has since known as the ‘Magnificat.’

THE MAGNIFICAT

‘My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. Because he hath regarded the humility of his hand-maid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Because he that is mighty hath done great things to me: and holy is his name. And his mercy is from generation to generations, to them that fear him. He hath showed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy. And he spoke to our fathers: to Abraham and his seed forever’ (Luke 1:46-55).

In this paean of praise to God Mary manifests her understanding of the wonderful things which God is preparing for mankind. She knows that through her, God is in some way fulfilling the promises He made to Abraham and his seed forever. She knows, too, that God’s blessings come only to those who fear Him. She realises that God is so mighty that He will accomplish His designs through her own self, through the humility of her own child, in the face of the mighty ones of this human world.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

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THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MANKIND AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE: AS A PREPARATION FOR THE GOSPEL TO SPREAD TO ALL, GOD FACILITATES A UNIVERSALLY SPOKEN LANGUAGE FOR JEWS AND THE REST OF THE KNOWN WORLD

THE BOOKS OF THE MACCABEES IN THE BIBLE ILLUMINATE THE CONTINUOUS AND STEADY UNFOLDING OF GOD’S SALVATION PLAN FOR ALL MANKIND. WITHOUT READING THOSE BIBLICAL BOOKS, QUITE AN AMOUNT OF THE REST OF THE BIBLE MAKES AS MUCH SENSE AS TRYING TO UNDERSTAND THE “WHODUNNIT” WHEN SEVERAL CHAPTERS TOWARDS THE END OF AN AGATHA CHRISTIE BOOK HAVE BEEN RIPPED OUT.

KING HEROD

“From the time of Malachias (perhaps shortly before the reforms of Esdras) no prophet had appeared in Israel. The Chosen People were left by God to keep faith in Him without the inspiring activity of the prophets. In the period between Malachias and Herod there is evidence that the faith of many was weakened. Many fell victim to the Hellenising tendencies of the Seleucid dynasty [for details about this, as described in the Holy Scriptures, please see the previous episode of “The Salvation History As Revealed in the Bible” posted 2 days ago]. On the other hand, the Macchabaean revolt shows that many retained a firm hold on their ancient faith. The final defeat of the Macchabaean ambitions by Herod the Great did not mean that the religion of Jahweh had perished or that God had deserted His people.

On the contrary, to those who like ourselves can look back over history, there are not lacking signs that the divine plan for the salvation of mankind was maturing during this long period of divine silence. God had promised that His blessings would be brought to the world through the descendants of Abraham. Through His prophets He had foretold that all the nations would be brought to worship Jahweh. While this great gathering of the nations to Jahweh had been slightly foreshadowed by the inclusion of isolated individuals in the company of the people of God, until this period there did not appear any significant developments pointing to the accomplishment of God’s design for universal salvation. But during this period signs of the maturation of the divine plans appear.

IMPORTANT SIGNS OF THE MATURATION OF THE DIVINE PLANS APPEAR

These signs are chiefly three: the Diaspora of the Chosen People, Hellenism and the establishment of the Roman Empire. It is these three factors in universal history which we must now consider, with a view to perceiving their role in the accomplishment of God’s will to save man.

THE DIASPORA

The word ‘Diaspora’ was a term used by Jews to signify the Jews who lived outside the Promised Land given them by Jahweh. In 857 B.C. some Jews had gone to live in Damascus after Achab had defeated the king of Syria. The ten northern tribes had been deported to Assyria by Sargon. The kingdom of Juda had been deported to Babylon by Nabuchodonosor. The ten northern tribes were apparently assimilated by their conquerors, for they disappear from history. But many of the kingdom of Juda returned to Palestine under Zorobabel, and later under Esdras and Nehemias.

The evidence shows, though, that many of the Jews remained in Babylonia. There is also historical proof that a Jewish colony was established at Elephantine in Egypt. Later, after Alexander the Great had founded the city of Alexandria in Egypt, many Jews went there and established a Jewish colony. By the time of Herod the Great the Jewish colony at Alexandria seems to have numbered a million souls. From Alexandria it is legitimate to suppose that they emigrated to other ports throughout the Mediterranean world. At any rate, by the time the Roman Empire was established the Jews were to be found dispersed throughout the Mediterranean world.

This dispersion of the Jews so widely through the parts of the civilised world then known to them meant that at least some knowledge of the existence and character of Jahweh, the only true God, had gone beyond the borders of Palestine, had penetrated the lands of people who still worshipped false gods and practised idolatry. It represented at least a beginning of God’s efforts to bring all men back to Himself.

This view is reinforced by three facts: first, the preservation of Jahwism among the dispersed Jews; second, the translation of the Sacred Books of the Jews into Greek, the common language of the nations within the scope of Roman domination, and third, proselytism.

AN AMAZING FACT

It is an amazing but true fact that the Jews, even though dispersed throughout a pagan world, preserved their faith in Jahweh. With the exception of the ten northern tribes who become lost to history as an independent entity or group once they are deported to Assyria, the other Jews throughout the Diaspora retain their identity both as Jews and as worshippers of Jahweh. Through all antiquity this is a singular fact.

Other peoples may have emigrated from their own lands but they ceased to retain their own identity and, for want of a better word, their insularity, their own allegiance to their religion and their God. There remained always between the different Jewish communities spread throughout the world and the centre of Jahwistic worship at Jerusalem a close bond. Communication between the dispersed Jews and the mother-centre at Jerusalem continued throughout this period. With the exceptions of the Jewish communities at Elephantine and Leontopolis in Egypt, the Jewish communities in the Diaspora preserved their faith in the one true God by meeting in their synagogues once a week to read their Sacred Books and meditate on their message.

At Elephantine and Leontopolis, perhaps contrary to the best traditions of their faith, the Jews actually built temples in which they offered sacrifices to Jahweh. In this way the Jews preserved their faith in the one true God. In this way they gave an example to the non-believing nations of the world of faithfulness to the one true spiritual God.

THE SEPTUAGINT

Because they were living in lands foreign to their original homeland, they lost contact with their mother tongue. But so great was their devotion to their religion and to its long tradition that they produced a translation into Greek, the one language understood throughout the Mediterranean world, of their own Sacred Books. This translation was known as the Septuagint.

Entirely apart from its value to the Jews in enabling them to remain true to their ancient religious traditions, it also served the greater purpose of revealing to the world at large the treasures of God’s dealings with the human race. It would not be correct to overestimate the influence of the Septuagint on pagan thought or life before the advent of Christianity. On the other hand, it would be foolish to deny that it did provide to the unbelieving nations of the world an opportunity to discover the written record of God’s relations with the world of man since the beginning of time.

THE JEWS MANIFESTED ALWAYS AN AIR OF MORAL SUPERIORITY

Lastly, a an indicationof the influence of the Diaspora of the Jews in preparing the world at large for the extension of God’s salvation to all men, there is evidence of proselytism. It is true that the attitude of the Jews throughout the Roman Empire drew down upon them the hatred and the ridicule of many. Wherever they went they lived together, in isolation from their fellowmen.

They despised the gods and religions of the people in whose midst they dwelt. Despite the social superiority of their pagan neighbours the Jews manifested always an air of moral superiority. This naturally begot in their neighbours a feeling of suspicion and hatred. They were regarded as atheists because most had no temples and offered no sacrifices. To an idolatrous world the crowning proof f this was the fact that Pompey, the Roman general, found no statue to a god in the Temple at Jerusalem when he entered the Holy of Holies there.

THE BLESSINGS OF JAHWEH WERE TO BE EXTENDED TO ALL NATIONS

Yet, despite this somewhat general feeling that the Jews were to be despised and shunned, converts to Judaism were made. During this period the very fact of the dispersion of the Jews among the nations of the world brought about a widening of the viewpoint of the Jews themselves. Though they still continued to regard themselves as the Chosen People of God, they began to allow others to participate in the privileges of God’s Chosen People.

Although in Palestine itself the Jews, at the time of the repatriation and ever after, rejected the offers of the Samaritans to join with them in the worship of Jahweh, outside Palestine the Jews did not reject the desire of the pagan peoples to turn to the true religion. Undoubtedly this somewhat contradictory attitude was due to the fact that the Samaritans wished to worship Jahweh while still worshipping other false gods. But it was also due to some extent to the realisation on the part of the Jews of the Diaspora of the fact that even their prophets had foretold that the blessings of Jahweh were to be extended to all nations.

ANOTHER SIGN OF THE PREPARATION OF THE WORLD FOR THE PROMISED SALVATION

A second sign of the preparation of the world for the salvation promised by Jahweh was the extension of Hellenism during this period. Hellenism might be described approximately as the diffusion of Greek culture, Greek customs and ideas through the world from India to the Atlantic coast. It began with the conquests of Alexander the Great. It was the ambition of Alexander to bring the whole world the benefits of Greek culture. The vast extent of his conquests helped to make this dream a reality. Through his own conquests Greek culture pervaded in the world of Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine and Egypt. Because the Romans accepted the essential features of Greek culture, Hellenism penetrated also the world of western Europe and northern Africa.

From the point of view of preparing the world for the accomplishment of God’s plan for human salvation Hellenism did two things. First, it broke down the barriers of national feeling and prepared men’s minds for the idea that all men might be one community. Only a universal idea was necessary to bring this idea to realisation. The universal love of God for all men could be such a universal idea. Second, Hellenism gave to the world from India to the Atlantic a universal language, Greek. Surely a universal language would be of inestimable advantage in propagating a universal religion.

WHY GOD BROUGHT FIRST ALEXANDER THE GREAT AND LATER THE ROMAN EMPIRE

The third factor in preparing the world for the advent of God’s plan to save men was the establishment of the Roman Empire. The conquests of Alexander were great, but those of the Roman Empire were even more magnificent. The Romans subdued all of southern Europe, northern Africa, Greece itself, Asia Minor, Syria and Palestine. For several centuries they brought to these areas a reign of peace. This Pax Romana, the Roman peace, would make it possible for a universal religion to spread easily.

The Romans established good roads, both land and sea roads throughout their empire. It is true that they did this to enable themselves to control their holdings more efficiently. But these wonderful roads, free from brigandage and piracy, enabled men to travel easily from one part of the empire to the other. It thus enabled ideas or religious movements to spread easily throughout the empire. In this way it made it easy for God’s love of all men to become known rapidly and effectively.

THE ‘MYSTERY RELIGIONS’ ACCUSTOMED PEOPLE IN A VERY VAGUE WAY WITH THE NOTION OF A NEED FOR REDEMPTION

As part of Hellenism and the general atmosphere of the Roman Empire, it is also worthy of mention that the religious ideas of the Mediterranean world were also undergoing a change at this time. While the worship of the traditional gods of Rome and Greece continued, there is also observable at this time a trend to a more spiritual form of worship. In the third century before Christ the worship of Serapis, a ‘saviour’ god, had spread from Alexandria in Egypt through the Roman Empire. The mystery religions, as they are known, even though in a vague way, began to popularise the same notion of a need for redemption. More precisely, they accustomed the people to the notion of a union with divinity. This notion was not so concrete as the notion of the Divine Presence which was part of Judaism. But it was at least the beginning, a preparation for the extension of the Divine Presence to the whole world.

THE ADVENT OF THE SALVATION OF THE HUMAN RACE IS IMMINENT

Thus, while it might have seemed as if God had deserted His Chosen People, had given up His plans to save the world during this period, a closer view of the historical situation reveals a different picture. During this period God worked, especially through the Macchabees, to preserve the faith of His Chosen People. On the other hand, through the Diaspora, the spread of Hellenism and the establishment of the Roman Empire, He seems to have been preparing the world at large for the advent of His salvation of the human race.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

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THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MEN AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE: THE TIMESPAN BETWEEN THE PEOPLE OF GOD BEING PART OF ALEXANDER THE GREAT’S EMPIRE UNTIL WHEN KING HEROD WAS IMPOSED ON THEM BY THE ROMANS

THE PRECEDING POST – WHICH EXPLAINS THE MEANING OF THE RETURN FROM BABYLONIAN EXILE – “THE STORY OF THE REPATRIATION IN THE BIBLE; ANOTHER STORY OF GOD’S GREAT LOVE (FROM 538 B.C. ONWARDS)” WAS POSTED ON THIS BLOG ON OCTOBER 10, 2013.

“After the reforms of Esdras [Ezra] and Nehemias [Nehemiah] the loyalty of the people of Jahweh seemed to have been established. The walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt. The true worship of Jahweh had been reinstituted in the rebuilt Temple at Jerusalem. The people could feel that once again they were the people of God and that God was with them. It is only natural to suppose that this feeling was associated with the hope that the glorious promises of God would be fulfilled, especially the promise that through them God would establish a glorious kingdom on earth and lead the nations of the world to worship at the Temple.

RELATIVE FREEDOM UNDER PERSIAN RULE

But still the nation, the people of God, remained subject to the domination of the Persian rulers. After the efforts of Esdras and Nehemias and until the period of the Macchabees, the history of God’s Chosen People is for the most part shrouded in historical silence. Except for an unsuccessful rebellion under Artaxerxes III Ochus (358-337 B.C.), there is no evidence to show that the people did not remain politically submissive to the Persian rule. The fact that the Persian rulers allowed the free worship of Jahweh may account for this relatively peaceful period.

THE APPEARANCE OF ALEXANDER THE GREAT

In the fourth century before Christ a new factor appeared on the political horizon. Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia, began his reign in the summer of 336 B.C. After consolidating his rule in Greece, Alexander set out in 334 to conquer the empire of Persia. In a series of victories Alexander defeated Darius III, the great king of Persia, and assumed control of the Persian kingdom in 330 B.C. After the death of Alexander in 323 his empire was divided among the more powerful of his generals. Egypt and Palestine fell to the rule of the Ptolemies. Thus the Chosen People came under the domination of the rulers of Egypt.

THE CHOSEN PEOPLE’S JAHWEH WORSHIP UNDER THE PTOLEMIES

The Ptolemies respected the religious views and practices of the Jews and the Jews seem to have been content with their rule. But in the meanwhile a new threat appeared. In the year 200 (or 198) Antiochus III the Great (223-187 B.C..) Defeated Ptolemy IVPhilopator and took over control of Syria and Palestine. Antiochus belonged to the family of the Seleucids, who had gained possession of the Mesopotamian portion of the empire of Alexander. After the reign of Seleucus IV Philopator (187-175 B.C.), Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-163 B.C.), another son of Antiochus the Great, succeeded to the throne.

THE GREEK GODS AND CULTURE ARE FORCED ON GOD’S PEOPLE

Antiochus IV was an ardent Hellenist, that is, he was anxious to spread Greek culture throughout his kingdom. The most stubborn resisters to the process of Hellenisation were the Jews, with their worship of Jahweh. Antiochus was determined to succeed in the Hellenisation of the Jews.

A MORE GREEK-FRIENDLY HIGH PRIEST IS PUT IN PLACE BY ANTIOCHUS IV

About 173 Antiochus IV deposed Onias III, high priest at Jerusalem, and made Jason, a brother of Onias, high priest in his place. Jason had already manifested to Antiochus a willingness to cooperate in the Hellenisation of Jerusalem. His efforts were aided by the Tobiads, an influential family at Jerusalem. The people, however, were not friendly to these plans and Jason did not have the courage to wipe out the worship of Jahweh in the Temple at Jerusalem.

ANTIOCHUS ENTERS THE TEMPLE AND ERECTS THERE A STATUE OF ZEUS

In the year 168 Antiochus entered Jerusalem himself and took from the Temple the golden lampstand, the altar and other furnishings. In 167, at his orders, the ‘Abomination of desolation’ was erected in the Temple. The ‘Abomination’ was probably a statue of Jupiter Olympus. The sacrifices to Jahweh were stopped and a Greek altar was erected and pagan sacrifices were offered there. Altars were also set up throughout the countryside and sacrifices were offered there also. Participation in pagan sacrifices and festivals was made obligatory on all.

THE HASIDEANS, FORERUNNERS OF THE PHARISEES, FORMED TO UPHOLD BELIEFS

Unfortunately many Jews gave up their faith and participated in this pagan worship. Others, however, of a sterner mould left the cities and retired to the country or the desert where it was possible to retain their ancient religious beliefs. These devout followers of Jahweh were known as the Hasideans, that is, the ‘Pious’. They were the forerunners of the later Pharisees.

THE JEWISH FUGITIVE

Among those who remained faithful to the true religion was a certain Mathathias, a priest. He lived at Modin, a village nineteen miles northwest of Jerusalem. When asked to sacrifice to idols he killed the royal official who made the demand and fled to the desert with his five sons.

THE SUBSEQUENT JEWISH UPRISING

This courageous act proved to be the beginning of a successful rebellion against the Seleucid dynasty. Faithful followers of Jahweh rallied to the cause of Mathathias and his sons. On the death of Mathathias the military leadership of the movement passed to Judas, his third son. Judas, called Macchabaeus, in 164 reached an agreement with Lysias and Antiochus V Eupator by virtue of which the Temple was restored to the faithful Jahwists.

THE INSTITUTION OF THE JEWISH FESTIVAL HANUKKAH

Exactly three years after its profanation by Antiochus IV the Temple was rededicated to Jahweh. Judas ordered that a yearly festival should be celebrated to commemorate the victory of Jahwism. This festival is known as the Hanukkah, or Festival of Lights.

THE HIGH PRIEST HENCEFORTH IS GIVEN CIVIL AS WELL AS PRIESTLY AUTHORITY

This victory of Judas Macchabaeus was neither complete nor permanent. At Jerusalem itself there remained a strong faction favourable to Hellenism. The Greek monarchs at Antioch still desired absolute rule over the Jews. The struggle therefore continued. In 160 Judas himself was killed. His youngest brother Jonathan assumed military leadership of the Jahwist party.

The intrigues and wars between the various claimants to the throne at Antioch aided the Macchabees to achieve their aims. Jonathan was made high priest in 152 by Alexander Balas, one of the claimants to the Seleucid throne. In 142 Simon Macchabaeus became military leader and high priest. In 140 the people themselves regularised the high priesthood of Simon and the civil and priestly authority were united in one person.

CIVIL WAR AMONG THE JEWS

Under John Hyrcanus, the son of Simon, the territory subject to the Macchabaean family was enlarged until it approximated the kingdom of David. But the Jahwistic spirit which had animated the efforts of the original Macchabaean brothers weakened when a stable dynasty was established. Matters came to a head during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 B.C.).

Alexander was the first of the descendants of the Macchabees to call himself ‘king’. He spent most of his reign in a series of military campaigns designed to extend his kingdom. He found himself in strong opposition to the Pharisees, the descendants of the Hasideans. The Pharisees objected to the exercise of the high priesthood by a man whose hands were continually stained with the blood of war. This opposition led to civil war.

PEACE WITH THE PHARISEES

In the course of the war both Alexander and the party of the Pharisees appealed to foreign intervention. This represented a complete about-face from the ideals for which the original Macchabees had fought. Before his death Alexander saw the necessity of coming to terms with the Pharisees, who represented the wishes of the majority of the people. At his request Alexandra, his wife, who succeeded to the throne, made peace with the Pharisees.

THE ROMAN SENATE AND THE TRIUMVIRS ESTABLISH HEROD AS KING IN 37 B.C.

During her lifetime she made her son Hyrcanus high priest. But after her death her other son, Aristobolus, seized both the kingship and the high priesthood from Hyrcanus. The cause of Hyrcanus was supported by Antipater, an Idumaean general of Alexander Jannaeus.

The remaining history of the Macchabaen dynasty unfolded under the evil star of Antipater and his son Herod.

THE EVIL STAR OF ANTIPATER AND HEROD

Both of the latter were astute politicians and they gained the support of the new power in the East, the power of the expanding Roman state. The struggle for power in the Promised Land ended in 37 B.C. when the Roman Senate and the Triumvirs established Herod the Great as king.

THE CHOSEN PEOPLE NOW LIVE UNDER ROMAN RULE

Thus the splendid achievements of the first Macchabees ended in the imposition of an Idumaean king over the Chosen People by Rome, a foreign power. And thus, it would seem, the dream of the people was not yet to be fulfilled. The kingdom of God on earth was not yet established at Jerusalem. When would the hopes of the nation come to pass?” (To be continued)
– By Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

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PRAYER TO ST VICTORIA AND ST ANATOLIA

STS VICTORIA AND ANATOLIA, MARTYRS; MEMORIAL: DECEMBER 23

All-powerful God,
to serve you is to reign:
your love gave the saints Victoria and Anatolia
the courage to suffer a cruel martyrdom.
May our lives bear witness
to the faith we profess,
and our love bring others
to the peace and joy of your gospel.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

 

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