The eleventh installment of this mega-part series on the History of the Mass and Holy Mother
Church follows up on what we dealt with in chapter ten in the Carthaginian theologian Tertullian's words: "The Blood of the Martyrs is
the seed of Christianity."
Those first centuries were indeed the setting for a fertile field of holy
martyrs who gave their very lives for their faith amidst horrific persecution by a plethora of Roman
Emperors who, in their paranoid, feared these Christians were a threat to their existence. The only threat
to the Roman way of life was their own pagan lifestyle. This, along with the blood of millions of
Christians, was their downfall for justice demands that such atrocities must be dealt with. Despite
the turbulent Third Century when Rome endeavored to wipe out all Christians, the Catholic Church
survived and flourished - their faith and perseverance converting innumerable souls who in turn
promulgated the Faith and the Sacraments to far-reaching regions.
Through this nurturing time
schisms, heresies and apostasies reared their ugly heads but all the popes persevered and passed on
a flourishing Church to those who would follow and reap the blessings and life-giving sacrifices of the
early Christians. Because Rome had played such a pivotal role in the annals of early Church history,
the city of Seven Hills became the permanent seat of Roman Catholicism. The Holy Mass flourished,
blossoming liturgically once Latin was declared the official language of the Church. In this chapter
we cover the effects the martyrs had on the rise of the Christian Church and the decline of the once
proud Roman Empire during the second half of the Third Century.
The Blood of the Martyrs replenishes a flourishing Church: 200-250 AD
It has long been said that if something is of God it will persevere and grow, if not it will fade away. The greatest example of this is the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Consider that over five million were murdered in the first three centuries of the Church and yet, it multiplied miraculously through the blood of the martyrs.
Under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, the Church has continued to spread all over the world until it has today reached every corner of the earth. It has done so despite the faults of humans, the mistakes of the magisterium and even bad popes, including the present Vicar who on the surface might seem like a saint because of his popularity, holiness is not equated with how the world accepts you but how God accepts you. In this, John Paul II must stand before God and answer for the terrible devastation that has so ravaged the Mystical Bride of Christ. He has had over twenty-five years to clean up the mess left by Paul VI and instead of returning to the constituted evangelic traditions which every pope is sworn to uphold, this Polish Pope has only veered farther away, being responsible for so many more countless souls who are lost. Yet, if Holy Mother Church could grow stronger after the terrible Arian heresy that claimed so many souls, especially bishops, so we have great hope and confidence that She will grow stronger after this VaticantwoArian heresy has lived out its purpose and the barren fruits rot away, gathered up and thrown into the furnace.
To say the Church should be lily-white and beyond any of the problems it is encountering today would be an aberration for it has gone through some very trying times - schisms, apostasies, heresies, wars, inquisitions, politics, and massacres all in the name of the Church. Yet, despite these setbacks, Holy Mother Church has flourished and will continue because she has rigorously obeyed the Command Jesus Christ gave in Matthew 28: 19-20: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world."
That was the inspiration the Apostles had in dispersing to different countries in order to carry out Our Lord's command. They baptized, preached, celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and even ruled in some of the countries where they were dispatched. They also appointed and ordained bishops and priests to rule and minister to those who believed - the faithful.
The Root of the Problem Uncovered
But there was a price to pay. And the price the early Christians paid was the greatest treasure they could give - their lives. They were forced to choose between a pagan culture, where the morals of Rome were extremely depraved, and the one true faith - the Truth, the Way and the Life. By the 3rd Century the pagan evil had spread from within the the walls of Rome to the farthest regions of the Roman empire.
Like what is happening in our times here in the United States and worldwide, the Roman culture became debase over a period of time. Originally it had been set up as an idealistic culture to learn from the Greeks' mistakes and become the greatest empire ever. But as time went on, greed, lust, envy - all the deadly sins, crept in and Rome began to decay from within. As Rome capitalized on Greece's mistakes, they also were victimized by them for history does indeed repeat itself. Because of the tremendous Grecian influence, most of the upper class of Rome spoke Greek. Romans strove to imitate the Greeks in many ways, chief among them their worship of nearly 30,000 different "gods" and "goddesses." A majority of them were deified for the very purpose of debauchery and immorality. Just as Greece lost its soul, so also the carbuncle of immorality, amorality and paganism rotted the once proud Roman empire from within.
While the blood of the martyrs nourished the seeds of
Christianity, the blood of idolatry sowed seeds of discontent. This cancer spread rapidly and those who sought to stop it, namely the Christian disciples - laity as well as popes, bishops, priests and deacons, were considered traitors to Rome. This was the crux of the reasons why the full force of Rome was pitted against the new religion of these Christians. Those whose faith was lax faltered and they even betrayed their own fellow Christians as to their location in homes, caves, forests and catacombs where the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was celebrated.
The Beginning of the Split between East and West
As we touched on in the last installment, Pope Saint Zephyrinus, the 15th in the line of Peter and Supreme Pontiff from 199 to 217 AD, is considered the "Father of Ecclesiastical Latin," but it was his successor Pope Saint Calixtus who headed the Church from 217 to 222 who decreed Latin as the official language of the liturgy. The Mother Tongue had been established. His reasoning followed because for nearly two centuries Latin had been the unofficial language of the common people of Rome and nearby vicinities. As often happens in a class system, there is a division not only in culture but also in language and dialect. So it was in Rome. Because of the Greek influence, many of those born of noble Roman birth retained and passed on the Greek language and customs.
One of these was Hippolytus, a Roman priest who was constantly a thorn in Calixtus' side. Upon the latter's election as pope, Hippolytus broke away from Rome, and became the first antipope in history. As we detailed in the last installment, there were heretics during this period such as Marcion and later Tertullian, despite his historical quote. But Hippolytus was the most vocal. Despite the volatile actions of this heretic, before his defection he composed the Apostolic Tradition. This prayer, in part has been passed on to this day in the Eucharistic Prayer after the Offertory. Another tradition credited to Hippolytus was the origin of the Kiss of Peace. Many liturgical scholars attribute its origin to the procedure of segregating men and women into different locations during the Mass. This was a throwback to the Jewish custom, strongly adopted by the Greeks that women would not participate in religious services except in outer circles of the temple or sanctuary. It was a custom that Christ observed as part of Jewish law and the Church carried on regarding the priesthood and participation in the sanctuary during Holy Mass until the advent of the feminist movement which conversely deeply influenced the aftermath of Vatican II and added to the breakdown of faith.
Many Church historians presume that Hippolytus broke away from Rome for two reasons - the first because he had not been chosen the next pontiff and the second, and most credible, because of his staunch defense of Greek. This could be another reason Calixtus was so quick to proclaim Latin as the official language since the two were bitter rivals. A little background on Hippolytus bears this out for he had been born of noble parents and nurtured in the Greek language; in short, a scholar. On the other side of the proverbial coin Calixtus had been born a slave and always clung to the needs of the poor. Those like him, who had been slaves, non-Romans or who were poor were rejected and in turn they rejected the Greek either out of lack of formal education or their despise for what pagan Rome stood for. They, in turn, adopted Latin as a means of communication and it was quickly embraced by the Christians who were, for the most part, in and among the poor as Christ had directed.
Yet insurrection was inevitable from the Greek camp. Fired up by Hippolytus, those who favored Greek objected vehemently to the abandonment of their language. It's interesting to note that only a few things of Greek such as the Kyrie Eleison were retained. It was an all-out victory for Calixtus and for Latin, but left scars that lasted for centuries and eventually led to a split between East and West. As time passed, more and more Latin was incorporated into the liturgy of the Mass. It also became a possessive tongue where the Christians guarded and treasured this new speech. Calixtus also reasoned that if the liturgy was conducted in Latin universally, Christians could more readily identify and participate wherever they went. From 220 to 1965 this was the rule rather than the exception. Unfortunately , today it's the exception rather than the rule. Indeed, so sadly, most priests and bishops have abandoned the Mother Tongue all-together.
The Blood Runs Deep
The establishment of Latin was St. Calixtus' most recognized accomplishment and eventually he returned to his roots, driven to take shelter in the poor and populous quarters of Rome during the terrible persecution of the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus who viciously had him beaten with clubs on October 14, 223 and his remains thrown into a well where the church Santa Maria in Trastevere now stands.
Pope Saint Urban I succeeded Calixtus until 230 when he, too, was martyred. It was Pope Urban who converted Saint Cecilia and ordered a church built on the site of her martyrdom where her remains now lie. It was during Urban's papacy that, as the Church was growing, the need for acquiring property became an issue and he consented to allow the acquisition of property by Holy Mother Church.
On August 28, 230 Pope Saint Pontian became the 18th successor to the Apostolic See. This Roman-born pontiff ordered the recital of the Confiteor in asserting the absolution of venial sins through a worthy saying of this necessary prayer of forgiveness. It was to be repeated three times, first once by the priest - the alter Christus and twice by the attendants at the Holy Mass - the altar boys or Acolytes. Pontian also instituted the chanting of the Psalms during Holy Mass. He also instituted the salutation Dominus vobiscum followed by the response Et cum spiritu tuo
within the Mass.
As the persecutions heated up, first under Severus and then a succession of emperors who were as debase as the previous, the blood ran deeper. Pontian was banished to work the mines in Sardinia along with the heretic Hippolytus. There, through the grace of God, Hippolytus repented, renouncing his title as antipope and encouraged his followers to return to the true Church. The schism caused by Hippolytus was brought to an end through reconciliation and Hippolytus became Saint Hippolytus, shedding his blood for Christ along with Pontian at the hands of their Roman persecutors in 235.
On December 21st, 235 Pope Saint Anterus was elevated to the papacy but it was very short-lived. He only had time to decree that the acts and relics of the martyrs be gathered together and kept in a special place in the churches, before being executed by the new Roman Emperor, a barbarian from Thrace named Maximus.
Anterus' successor was Pope Saint Fabian, the 20th successor of Peter, who enjoyed one of the longer pontificates in this turbulent century. A dove miraculously appeared above Fabian's head the moment he was elected on January 10, 236, proof that he was indeed God's choice. Through the guidance of the Holy Sanctifier, Fabian encouraged the exodus of many Christians from Rome. During Anterus' papacy the persecution of Maximus, and then the vile Decius, were so intense in northern Africa that it gave impetus to the rise of the hermetical life of the Anchorites as we treated in the last issue. Fabian died a martyr on January 20, 250 at the hands of the Emperor Decius.
In the next issue we will treat the second half of the 3rd Century and the increasing martyrdoms as the tempo builds to the last part of the century when the evil Roman Emperor Diocletian surfaces and wages all-out war on Christ's followers.