Dividing Eastern and Western Christianity is Not Patristic

Today we Christians often think of Christianity as “Eastern or Western” and assume that it’s always been that way. Nope. Not really.

In the first 900 years of Christianity, over 50 Popes were Greek. Greeks and Latins criss-crossed freely. Saint Irenaeus of Lyons (modern France) was Greek. Saint Theodore of Canterbury (England) was Greek.

After Gregory the Great (d. 604), every single Pope for the next 200 years was Greek. These were native Greek speaking Popes celebrating Latin liturgy in Rome.

Even the Pope that crowned Charlemagne (Saint Leo III) was Greek.

Art, hagiography, architecture, liturgy, chant, music, monasticism – all of it was criss-crossing back and forth between East and West. Christianity was Christianity.

It wasn’t until the 1000s and then especially in the 1200s that the cross-pollination ceased.

If the Eastern Orthodox returned to full union with Rome, I would suspect that after many decades, there could be Greek Popes again and that art, theology, liturgy, etc. would continue to cross-pollinate. It’s natural. It’s normal. It’s healthy for Christians everywhere.

In a future post, I will explore the tradition of loooong interregnums between Popes.

11 Unusual Facts about Constantine the First Christian Roman Emperor

Constantine gets a bad rap. He’s Saint Constantine in the Eastern Churches, but just plain ol’ “Constantine” in the West. Is he an apostolic saint or an opportunistic sinner?

In the last few years, I’ve spent a lot of time reading up on Constantine. I’ve taught a course three times in Rome called “History and Theology of Rome,” which touches on Constantine and his legacy. I’ve written a book The Eternal City which also explores his impact on Christianity (I was much more pessimistic about him in the book than I am now). Moreover, Constantine is a major literary character in my historical fiction Trilogy: Sword and Serpent: Trilogy.

[PS: Book III in the Sword and Serpent Trilogy is now complete and in the final editing stages – and young Constantine heavily present in the final novel.]

Since we live in times of political and ecclesiastical ambiguity, here are 11 facts about Constantine to help you see that God can use imperfect politicians (and imperfect bishops) to bring about great good:

  1. He was divorced and remarried. His first wife was Minervina, and he divorced her to marry his second wife was Fausta.
  2. Constantine killed his second wife. In AD 326, he had his first son Crispus (from his first marriage) killed. He also had his second wife Fausta killed. Both names were removed from public documentation. After Constantine had his second wife killed, he never married again until his death at age 65. (It was rumored that his son Crispus had an affair with his stepmother Fausta and that this revelation and their ordered deaths haunted Constantine to the grave.)
  3. During his early life, the Roman Empire was divided into a Tetrarchy of four emperors: two senior emperors with the title “Augustus” and two junior emperors with the title “Caesar.” Constantine’s father Constantius was the “junior emperor” or “Caesar” of the Western half of the Empire.
  4. Constantine spent his early life held captive in the East (away from his father in the West) by the senior emperor Augustus Diocletian (a great persecutor of Christians). Constantine escaped the Eastern emperors by night and fled to his father. It is said that he hamstrung every horse along the way so that he would not be caught! Constantine joined his father Constantius in York in Britain. His father died in 306 and his son Constantine was acclaimed “Augustus” or senior emperor of the Western Roman Empire by his soldiers.
  5. But Constantine needed to prove his title. Before defeating Maxentius in AD 312, Constantine saw the cross in the sky above the sun with the words “in touto nika” or,  “In this sign, conquer.” Lactantius (who tutored his sons) says Constantine was instructed to conquer under the sign of the cross during a dream. Eusebius records that it happened during the day at noon and that all the troops saw it. Either way, Constantine is said to have placed the sign of the cross or a Chi Rho on the shields of his men. Scholar Peter Weiss suggests the public “sun miracle” happened in Gaul in AD 310 and the dream happened in AD 312 before the Battle at the Milvian Bridge. That in AD 310, Constantine began to shift to monotheism based on “Sol Invictus” and that by AD 312, this monotheism had become (or was becoming) Christian monotheism.
  6. Constantine legalized Christianity with the Edict of Milan in AD 313, but he began to remove pagan symbols from imperial coins beginning around the year AD 318. He gave the Lateran Palace to the bishop of Rome in AD 324. His conversion seems gradual and is in full display after about 10-12 years of rule.
  7. Constantine didn’t likely convert for political reasons as most high school history teachers will tell you. The demographics were against him. It is estimated that in AD 312, Christians composed only 10-15% of the Roman Empire’s population and fell into the lowest levels of education, wealth, and political power. The influence, wealth, and political power were still held by those checking the box labeled: “Jupiter, et al. Give me that old school Roman religion.”
  8. In AD 325, he called the first Catholic and Ecumenical Council of Nicea, which condemned the heresy of Arius falsely teaching that the Son of God was created and not eternally begotten of the Father.
  9. Constantine left three living sons (each born from Fausta):
    Constantine II (Catholic and anti-Arian). The first born.
    Constantius II (Semi-Arian). The most powerful and through his influence, Semi-Arian theology spread.
    Constans (Catholic and anti-Arian and anti-Donatist). Constans was rumored to be a man of unnatural vices.
  10. Constantine did not divide the Roman Empire into “East and West.” That had already been accomplished fully by Diocletian. Constantine, in a sense, re-united the entire Roman Empire under himself as one household or oecoumenos.
  11. Constantine fell ill and personally selected the Semi-Arian bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia to baptize him just days before his death. He died on Pentecost AD 337.

Whatever your opinion of Constantine, it’s a historical fact that Christianity was spread to more souls by Constantine than by Saint Paul himself. This is why the Eastern Churches hail him as the “Thirteenth Apostle.” I’ll admit that this title is overly ambitious, but my opinion is that he was genuinely apostolic despite him being obviously imperfect.

Depending on your perspective: pray for Constantine’s soul or ask him to pray for you!

Photos from Pilgrimage to Rome, Assisi, Florence, Venice

Plus Video of Cardinals and Bishops at Corpus Christi Procession in Rome

I’m sorry that I have not been posting articles for the last two weeks. I’ve been teaching a class in Rome to Seminarians called “The History and Theology of Rome” (based on The Eternal City) and it has been a rich blessing.

Since I have not been posting theology articles, I’ve been posting a stream of photos and videos. For example, here is a video of the bishops and cardinals processing with the Holy Eucharist for the feast of Corpus Christi:

If you’d like to see a constant stream of photos of Roman and Italian relics, saints, churches, architecture, sites, and food, please check out my daily photo posts on Instagram (DrTaylorMarshall): click here to see photos.

Godspeed,
Dr Taylor Marshall

PS: I’ll be back in the US next week and will resume theological blog posts.

The Catholic and Liturgical Origin of Pizza

I am in Rome teaching a course to Seminarians: “The History and Theology of Rome” for the Rome Experience.

While enjoying some pizza near Piazza Navona, my son asked: “Dad, where does pizza come from?”

So I looked it up. The earliest reference to “pizza” is from AD 997 in a Latin text from the Italian town of Gaeta:

The text states that there were to be delivered to the bishop of Gaeta should receive duodecim pizze (twelve pizzas) every Christmas day and another duodecim pizze (twelve pizzas) every Easter Sunday. Here we have the earliest reference to “pizza” and it includes pizza delivery.

Since the town of Gaeta at that time belonged to the Byzantine Empire, the Latinized word “pizze” is likely a corruption of the Greek “pitta” or “πίττα” – a reference to “flatbread.”

So the first recorded pizza parties (12 pizzas!) goes back to the Bishop of Gaeta.

I came to Christ in a round about way from a Major League Baseball signature referencing Romans 10:9 on a Dominos Pizza gift from Thomas Monahan to my father (a long story), so I rather like this origin of pizza.

Godspeed,
Taylor

Catholic Theology Video: St Justin Martyr and His Heretic Disciple Tatian

I recently fielded a question about rigorist Christians (even Catholics) who believe that Adam and Eve would have never had physical marital relations had it not been for original sin.

This belief goes back to the heretical Encratites. The Encratites were a rigorist Christian sect that condemned not only sexual relations within Christian marriage (that is, that said that even married people must abstain after baptism), but they also condemned the consumption of alcohol – even omitting wine in the Eucharistic liturgy.

This latter point is ironic since Jesus turned water into wine at a marriage.

Perhaps the most infamous Encratite was Tatian – the disciple of Saint Justin Martyr. This proves that even the greatest theologians and teachers can have disciples that become heretics!

So since today is the feast of Saint Justin Martyr, here is a free Catholic Church History lesson from the New Saint Thomas Institute:

Catholic Course on Saint Justin Martyr and Tatian the Heretic:

If you’d like to join thousands of other online students, and take online classes in Catholic history, theology, apologetics, philosophy, Church Councils, Christology, Mariology, etc. please sign up and begin one of our curricula at the New Saint Thomas Institute.

Why Did President Trump and Melania wear black in presence of Pope?

There are some interesting coming from the recent visit of President Trump to Pope Francis of Rome. Many are commenting on First Lady Melania and Ivanka wearing black and black veils in the presence of the Holy Father as in this photo:

Why are Melania and Ivanka wearing black?

In Catholic symbolism (and human symbolism!) black garments signifies humility and the desire to not be noticed. During a papal audience, it is traditional protocol for men to dress simply (President Trump has a black and white tie) and for women to wear long black dresses that cover the knee, are high collar (no cleavage for the pope, please), and long sleeves. Melania and Ivanka provide a nice example of how it’s supposed to look.

But there is an exception for a few Catholic princesses and queens: Le privilège du blanc!

Le privilège du blanc for Royal Women

Le privilège du blanc or “the privilege of the white” in the presence of the Pope is granted to royal women so long as they remain in good standing with the Catholic Church. Heresy or a non-sacramental marriage would lead to the Pope “declining the privilege.” The following royal ladies have the privilège du blanc:

  1. Queen of Belgium
  2. Queen of Spain
  3. Grand Duchess of Luxembourg
  4. Princess of Naples
  5. Princess of Monaco

Charlene of Monaco (photo to the right) used theprivilège du blanc on 18 January 2016 when visiting Pope Francis as part of an official state visit to the Vatican with her husband, Albert II, Prince of Monaco. Queen Sofía of Spain also used the privilege in 2016.

Cherie Blair (wife of UK Prime Minister Tony Blair) was highly criticized for wearing white while visiting Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.

124: Heretic Nestorius: Is Mary Mother of God? Are there 2 Christs? [Podcast]

My goal this week is to introduce to 6 of the world’s greatest heretics and how we can avoid their heresies and errors for our time. Today we study Nestorius – the man who denied the unity of Christ and denied that Mary is the Mother of God. Join Dr Marshall for this fascinating episode of heresy in Catholic history:

The image above depicts Nestorius. Note the x on his mitre – this signifies that he is a heretical bishop.

124: Heretic Nestorius: Is Mary Mother of God? Are there 2 Christs? [Podcast]

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Ascension of Christ as Davidic Cloud Monarch

Son of Man with the Clouds of Heaven

Many of us begin with an incorrect (even heretical) understanding of the Ascension of Christ. I’ve heard it said that Christ eventually “gave up” the use His body, as if he parked it in a garage with the idea of perhaps using His body again at the end of time to judge the living and dead.

Today we will discover the importance in Catholic orthodoxy of the presence of “the cloud” at the Ascension of Christ:

The ascension of Christ is described in Luke’s Gospel and referred to frequently in John. Christ gathers the 11 Apostles at the Mount of Olives where He commands them to remain in Jerusalem until the coming of the Holy Spirit:

And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.

We receive more details in Luke’s Acts 1:8-11:

But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Perhaps the most important detail here is the description of a “cloud” taking Him out of sight.

Christ did not float up into the sky like a balloon let loose by a child until it disappeared as a dot in the sky too far way to see. Rather, the Body of Christ was taken by a cloud.

Saint Peter perceives the Davidic importance of this event in Acts 2:32-36 when he cites the royal Davidic “Lord said to my Lord” Psalm 110:

The Lord says to my lord:
Sit at my right hand,
till I make your enemies your footstool.”
2 The Lord sends forth from Zion
your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your foes!
3 Your people will offer themselves freely
on the day you lead your host
upon the holy mountains.
From the womb of the morning
like dew your youth will come to you.
4 The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest for ever
after the order of Melchizedek.”
5 The Lord is at your right hand;
he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
6 He will execute judgment among the nations,
filling them with corpses;
he will shatter chiefs
over the wide earth.
7 He will drink from the brook by the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.

This is a Psalm declaring that David will “ascend” to his God-appointed throne at God’s right hand and begin to rule. We find that the Davidic king is at least quasi-divine. He is:

  • “my Lord”
  • “priest”
  • “for ever”
  • “will scatter kings…corpses…over the wide earth”

This is a cosmic king. A divine Messiah. Something David could never be and this is why Christ asks how David could ever say: “The Lord says to my Lord.”

This is Trinitarian theology. We find one Divine Person (Lord) speaking to another Divine Person (Lord). For an interesting study of two distinct “Lords” in Hebrew Scripture, I highly recommend The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God by Margaret Barker.

We see the conversation between the “two Lords” in Daniel 7 with the “Ancient of Days” (first Lord) interacting with the Son of Man (second Lord). In Daniel 7:13, the Son of Man comes up to the Father. I’m not making this up or grasping at straws. Christ Himself quotes these passages as references to Himself in the future at Matthew 24:30; 26:64 and Mark 13:26; 14:62 and Luke 21:27:

13 I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a Son of Man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
14 And to him was given dominion
and glory and kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.

It’s obvious how this passage in Daniel 7 echoes Psalm 110 with a divine-like King gaining universal dominion over all kings and kingdoms. But notice the “clouds.”

See this post for more: The Davidic Identity of Daniel

Christ purposefully includes “the clouds” in His own citation of this passage during His trial. Ultimately, it’s Christ’s quotation of this passage and “the clouds” that offends the High Priest leads Him to be “convicted” and crucified.

The cloud theme continues in Revelation as I detail in this free Catholic podcast on the Book of Revelation Chapter 14. Jesus Christ rides in “on a cloud” holding a sickle and ready to slay his enemies as described in Ps 110 and Dan 7.

Then I looked, and lo, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand.

The Ascension of Christ with the cloud is important and it shows that He is still operating through His assumed human nature. This is good news for Catholics. If Christ has “parked His body” as if to be finished with it, then we would not have the perennial presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in our churches.

Happy Ascension,
Dr. Taylor Marshall

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PS: King David was Eucharistic. 2 Sam 6:17-19 records that when King David ascended as king in Jerusalem, he gave every Israelite a wheat cake, wine, and a cake of grapes. A type of the wheat and grapes of the Eucharist of the Davidic Messiah.

PPS: Here’s a line by line Catholic commentary on the Book of Revelation.

If you’d like to study with me orthodox Christology (study of Christ) and Mariology (study of Mary) study of Mary, please join the New Saint Thomas Institute.

In the Eucharist do we receive the Body of Mary, too?

A reader named Rey asks:

Dr. Marshall, regarding the Body and Blood of our Lord, is it correct to say that in a way that when we receive the Eucharist that we receive the body and blood of Jesus and Mary, considering that Jesus (as second person) assumed human nature through Mary? In other words, just as Eve’s body was taken from Adam, in the same way, the Second Adam (Jesus) was taken from the body and blood of Mary being His mother? Thus, when we receive communion, it is also in a way receiving the body and blood of Mary through her Son?

My reply:

No, it would be heretical to state that we receive the Body of Mary in the Holy Eucharist. We do not receive the Body of Mary in the Eucharist. This should be entirely rejected.

The Body of Christ is genetically different than the body of Mary and is vivified by a distinct soul in Christ that is not the soul of Mary. A human body relies on the form of the distinct soul animating it. Moreover, the substantial form and matter of Christ’s human body is not that of the Blessed Virgin Mary – even though the Body of Christ is derived from the body of Mary.

This also creates a corporeal regress. If we were to claim that we receive Mary’s body in the Eucharist (because she is his mother), then we could then say that when we eat the Eucharist we are eating the body of Saint Anne (Mary’s mother) and the body of King David and the body of Ruth, et al. – since they are genetic ancestors of Christ. All of this is heretical.

The Body of Christ is the Body of Christ. We don’t receive simply a body in the Eucharist, we receive a Person in the Eucharist – the Divine Second Person of the Trinity along with the human nature that He assumed in the womb of Mary: His body, blood, and soul.

It is, however, perfectly orthodox to say that Mary participated in the Incarnation and that she provided a human body to Christ. We can also state as orthodox the scientific fact that the blood of a mother mixes with the blood of her baby. So we can say that the Precious Blood Christ mixed with the blood of Mary in utero, providing yet another profound sanctification in her beyond that of her sublime Immaculate Conception.

But we should not say that we receive the blood of Mary or the body of Mary in the Eucharist.

ad Jesum per Mariam cum Petro,
Dr. Taylor Marshall

PS: There was an ancient heretical sect in pre-Islamic Arabia that celebrated a liturgical rite in which they claimed to be eating the Body of Mary in a quasi-Eucharist. They were called Collyridians. (Click here to learn more about Marian Heresies.) This may be why Muhammad and the Quran wrongly asserts that Christians believe that Mary is the Third Person of the Trinity. See Quran 5:73-75 and Quran 5:116.

Catholic Doctrine of Justification: Is It Really Legal or Just a Metaphor?

In our previous post titled “Is Our Salvation Based on the Concepts of Debt and Law?” we asked the question about whether the Catholic doctrine of salvation (soteriology) is ontological (based on a transformation of being or human nature) or is it also legal and based on the notion of debt.

Following up from that post, a reader named Jacob asks a great question:

The analysis made sense to me until the claim that it’s not either/or; it’s both/and (I have a passing familiarity with this rule of thumb in Catholic theology).

My understanding until that point was: because salvation is ontological, it truly consists of a real change in my (hopefully!) humanity, and the
legal/financial terminology is strictly metaphorical.

However, the claim about both/and in this context made me think my understand was flawed, and there is a legal/financial reality, not simply a metaphor.

Can you clarify? Thank you so much!
Jacob

Indeed. For the Catholic Christian, the legal/financial is not metaphorical. It is real. Just as Christ established a real/legal covenant (New Covenant), there are real/legal laws and sacraments associated with it. Eg, If you are ontologically changed (baptized and hopefully partaking in divine grace), you are legally obliged to attend Mass on Sunday unless prohibited in some way. There is nothing metaphorical about the gifts of the New Covenants or its moral obligations on the recipients.

Also, when you have sanctifying grace within you (ontological), you are truly justified (made legally righteous with respect to God’s moral law). You’re status as justified is not metaphorical. It is real. Why? Because it is really and truly based on your ontological status as a child of God in union with Christ. 

Godspeed,
Dr. Taylor Marshall