Tag Archives: St. Jerome

A Church with a Mission

Saints John and Paul, Coelian Hill, Rome

 


A few days ago we celebrated the feast of St. Jerome, the great 4th century scripture scholar and controversialist. These days I’m staying in a place well known to him in Rome– the Caelian Hill and the church of Saints John and Paul.

In Jerome’s day Rome’s rich and powerful lived on the Caelian Hill, across from the Palatine Hill and the Roman forum. Among them were some prominent friends, Pammachius, the ex- Roman senator who built Saints John and Paul, the noblewoman Paula and her daughter Eutochium, who joined Jerome in his venture in Bethlehem to study the scriptures, her other daughter Blaesilla and others.

Interest in the scriptures was high then among well-off Caelian Christians, but the place was also keen for gossip and religious controversies. Jerome loved the scriptures, but he also loved the fight. His relationship with Paula and her family probably figured prominently among the reasons he left Rome for the Holy Land. Paula and Eutochium followed him there, creating a monastic community in Bethlehem and undoubtedly playing a bigger part in his scriptural achievements than they’re credited for.

Jerome’s a saint, but I appreciate why so many artists picture him doing penance for his sins. He needed God’s mercy.

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Excavations, Saints John and Paul

Underneath Pammachius’ Church of Saints John and Paul are remains of Roman apartments going back to the 2nd-4th centuries, probably the best preserved of their kind in the city and a favorite for tourists. I went through them yesterday.

Years ago, when I studied here, one of the rooms in the excavations was pointed out as part of a house church with Christian inscriptions , but I see archeologists today consider it not to be so. That doesn’t mean Christians didn’t meet or worship in these buildings, only they didn’t create a special liturgical space for meeting or worship. Early Christian evidence says a “house church” was here early on.

Why then did Pammachius build the imposing basilica of Saints John and Paul here at the end of the 4th century? There were many retired soldiers settled on the Caelian Hill then. Did he wish to win them to Christianity by honoring two soldier saints, John and Paul, with a church built over their remains, which are still found under the church’s main altar today?

I wonder if there’s another reason. According to Richard Krautheimer, an expert on Rome’s early Christian churches, the emperor Constantine built St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Lawrence, the first Christian churches, on the edge of the city at least partially In deference to the sensibilities of the followers of Rome’s traditional religions. He didn’t want any Christian church in the “show areas” of the city, near the Roman forum or the Palatine hill.

Saints John and Paul, Interior

Was Pammachius’ church now a statement to the city that Christianity had arrived and wished to speak its wisdom here at the heart of traditional Roman religion, near the Palatine Hill and the Roman forum? Jerome’s new translations and commentaries, along with the works of St. Augustine and others, gave them something to say.

So this was a church with a mission. A reminder for the church of today?

Thoughts Upon The Cross: Speak Life

by Howard Hain

Sandro Botticelli, The Last Communion of Saint Jerome, early 1490s (detail)

Botticelli, “The Last Communion of Saint Jerome”, early 1490s, (detail), The Met


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Heal us.

In the form of bread.

Our tongues like cribs.

You come to rest.

A sacred place.

A mother watches.

A father can hardly believe.

Greatness simply conceived.

Silent.

Yes let us be.

Help us not to speak.

No words can be.

No thoughts except those that flee.

Yes.

Hold our tongues.

Into quiet place.

Stillness.

Let us wait.

Till hear You cry.

A hungry child.

Tucked in for night.

A drop of milk.

In reality blood.

In the form of wine.

The angels sing.

Holiness explodes.

Heaven down to earth.

Saints to and fro.

Blessings forth.

Grace abounds.

The sick are healed.

The blind can see.

The lonely find friends.

Children unwanted?

They finally reach home.

We look.

We see.

We wonder.

How could it be?

It’s Him!

It’s Him.

Right there.

The One nailed to the tree.

Alive again.

Within my mouth.

And at my right hand.

And to the left.

And straight ahead.

And there!

Yes, there too!

In that hopeless situation.

We thought all was lost.

But, no, it’s Him.

He really does care.

And He calls us over.

To Himself.

And yes.

Silence changes forms.

It’s again time to speak.

What else can we do?

The Eternal One.

The Son of Man.

The Conqueror of Strife.

Let us smile at one another.

Let us speak life.


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http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/435728

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St.Mary Major

Basilica of St. Mary Major

Basilica of St. Mary Major

St. Mary Major

Mary, the mother of Jesus, welcomes us to this church, the largest and most ancient of her many churches in Rome. On the summit of the Esquiline Hill, a short distance from the Lateran Basilica, the church was begun in the early 5th century and completed by Pope Sixtus III (432-440.)

Hardly a good time to build a church. In 410, Alaric and his Goths shocked the Roman world by sacking the city that all thought invincible. In 455 the Vandals under Genseric vandalized the city. Twice more in the century other barbarian tribes invaded.

The English historian Edward Gibbon called this period of Roman history a time of decline and fall.

In far off Palestine St. Jerome cried out in disbelief at Rome’s misfortunes. In Africa St. Augustine replied to the followers of Rome’s traditional religions who said Christian weakness caused the city’s devastation by writing his treatise “The City of God.”

Christians were not the cause the city’s misfortunes, the saint said; two loves are at work in the world building two cities. One love builds an evil city; Christianity builds the City of God, promoting love and justice, even when hard times come.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is honored in this church.  The Christian world then saw her as a defender of Jesus, her son, who was both human and divine. In 431, the Council  of Ephesus repudiated Nestorius, the patriarch of Constantinople, for refusing to call her “Mother of God.” The title safeguarded Christian belief in the mystery of the Incarnation: Jesus is God and man, the council said.

The title does not make Mary a goddess, otherwise how could she have given birth to Christ who is truly human? Yet, she can be called Mother of God, because Jesus who is truly her human son is truly Son of God from all eternity as well.

Devotion to Mary ran high in the Christian world after the council, and churches dedicated to her arose everywhere. In the city of Constantinople alone, 250 churches and shrines in her honor were built before the 8th century. Pictures, icons of Mary holding her divine child multiplied, especially in churches of the East, where they became objects of special devotion.

St. Mary Major was not built just as a doctrinal statement, however, it was built also to shore up the spirits of frightened Christians who lived in dangerous times. Stories from the Old and New Testaments told on its walls call for courage and hope. God’s plan does not lead to decline and fall, they say, but to triumph in Christ.

In this church, Mary is Jesus’ mother and closest disciple. This place–to use a phrase of John Paul II– is “a school of Mary” who teaches the mysteries she has learned.

She has a leading figure in the sacred stories depicted here and is joined by a noticeable number of women from the Old and New Testaments who like her seem powerless, but are empowered by God.

The great 13th century mosaic in the church’s apse of Mary crowned by Jesus Christ as heaven’s queen proclaims God’s triumph in her, but also his triumph in the church as well. She is taken up to heaven “to be the beginning and pattern of the church in its perfection, and a sign of hope and comfort for your people on their pilgrim way.” (Preface of the Assumption)

It shouldn’t surprise us that many of the mysteries in which Mary had a special role were first celebrated  here. The Christmas liturgy, especially the midnight Mass on December 25th ,  began in this church  in the 5th century and spread to other churches of the west. Early on, a replica of the cave under the church of the Nativity at Bethlehem, the traditional site of Jesus’ birth, was constructed here. After the Muslim conquest of the Holy Land in the 7th century,  Christian refugees placed relics here purported to be from the crib that bore the Christ Child and relics of St.Matthew, an evangelist who told the story of Jesus birth.

Besides the Christmas liturgy, other great Marian feasts, such as her Immaculate Conception and Assumption, developed their liturgical forms in this church.

Built on a hill where all could see it, near Rome’s eastern walls so often threatened by barbarian armies, St. Mary Major affirms Christianity’s ultimate answer to its enemies. It is not military might, but the power of faith and love that triumphs in the end.

Visiting St.Mary Major

The church’s 18th century façade was built by the popes to enhance the appearance of this  important church at a time when many visitors, especially  from England and Germany, were traveling to Rome on the Grand Tour to visit its classical and religious sites.

The church’s interior, with its splendid 5th century mosaics along the upper part of the nave, retains its original form better than any other of the major basilicas of Rome.

The Sistine Chapel at the right hand side of the nave was built to house a silver reliquary with relics of the crib brought from the Holy Land in the 8th century. Two popes, Sixtus V and Pius V are buried there.

The Borghese Chapel at the left hand side of the nave honors the ancient icon of the Virgin and Child that Roman Christians have reverenced for centuries. A reproduction of the icon is a nice remembrance to bring home.

The magnificent 13th century mosaic in the apse of the basilica presents the Coronation of Mary in heaven. It’s surrounded by 5th century mosaics depicting scenes from the birth of Jesus and the life of Mary.

Website:

http://www.vatican.va/various/sm_maggiore/index_en.html