It was Saint Cletus who the disciples turned to as the third successor of Peter upon St. Linus' death in 76 AD. Pope St. Cletus was the first Roman-born elected and drew up the rules for the consecration of bishops and established rules for governing ecclesiastical garb. Near the tomb of St. Peter he ordered an oratory be built for the burial of martyrs. During this time he advised bishops to ordain priests and deacons so the faith could spread. He consulted by messenger with the Bishop of Antioch who had jurisdiction over Syria, the Bishop of Ephesus who ruled over Asia Minor, the Bishop of Caesarea who governed Palestine, the Bishop of Alexandria who covered all of Egypt, and the Bishop of Carthage who was responsible for the rest of Northern Africa.
In 88 AD St. Cletus was laid to rest near the tomb of St. Linus on Vatican Hill. He was succeeded by Saint Clement who was consecrated a bishop by Peter himself. Clement restored the Sacrament of Confirmation according to the rite of St. Peter and introduced the "Amen" into religious ceremonies. In addition to the increasing persecutions by the Romans, Clement had to contend with schism and mutiny from within. The internal strife in the Church at Corinth prompted him to write his famous epistle to the Corinthians in which he urged the duties of charity and total submission to the authority of the clergy and the pope. It bore great fruit and the Corinthian Church once again fell in line with Rome. Clement died a martyr somewhere between the years 97 and 100 AD when the Emperor Trajan banished him to Pontus. There he was thrown into the sea with an anchor tied around his neck. During his papacy Saint John the Evangelist, the beloved disciple was cast into a caldron of boiling oil by the Emperor Domitian and expected to suffer a cruel martyrdom, but God miraculously intervened and John emerged unhurt. Spooked by this, the Romans exiled him to the Isle of Patmos where he would be inspired to write the Apocalypse, or Revelation with numerous visions from God. He died at an old age in total peace in Ephesus in the year 100 AD. Clement was succeeded by Pope Saint Evaristus, the first Grecian-born pontiff whose papacy, in reality, is recorded to the Second Century. Therefore we will cover his pontifiate when we deal with the Second Century in future installments.
One century down...nineteen and counting to go. The four popes who had ruled during that first embryo-stage century had set the tone for Holy Mother Church. The Mass had been established, catechumens were gaining in numbers and a hierarchy had been set up with the Bishop of Rome being recognized as the authentic and authorized successor of Peter, therefore having jurisdiction over all other bishops. All owed their obedience and loyalty to the Vicar of Christ in Rome. Anyone who failed to recognize this authority was considered an outsider. If a controversy or disagreement concerning the teachings and doctrines of the Church arose, the Bishop of Rome - the Pope - had the final say.
Though the bloodshed would continue and even increase in the name of Jesus Christ, no matter how hard the Romans tried to destroy them bodily, they could not kill the Spirit. It was the age of Blood and that blood, nourished by the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, Soul and Divinity, replenished countless souls to shed their own blood so that they could indeed join Him in a kingdom that would never end. The Romans could not understand this and grappled on, wrestling with more cruel ways to destroy Christianity.
In the eighth installment next Tuesday, we shall cover the second century, one that was even more bloody than the first. In addition, we will examine the spiritual life of the early Christians and what prompted them to defy the things of the world in favor of heavenly rewards.
NEXT INSTALLMENT: The evolution of the early Christian spiritual life and liturgy.
Ten years after Hernando Cortez conquered Mexico for the world, Our Lady began her conquest of Mexico and all of the Americas for her Divine Son Jesus' world when she chose a simple peasant to convey one of the greatest miracles in the history of apparitions. On a frosty December morning in 1531 Blessed Juan Diego, a 51-year-old Aztec peasant. Juan and his wife, whose name is not recorded, were recent converts to Catholicism due to the influence of the Spanish evangelization which Cortez brought with him from Spain.
Spain had been one of the few countries in Europe who had been protected from the onslaught of "enlightenment" which ushered in the Protestant Revolt in the early 16th Century. Thanks to the safeguards taken by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and the steady hand of the Spanish Inquisition which prevented revolt by strict vigilance, the True Faith was preserved and spread to the New World in waves of Spanish priests who accompanied the Conquistadors. These Franciscan, Dominican and Carmelite Orders, as well as the Jesuits, played a pivotal role in the conversion of Central and South America. It was Isabella who financed Christopher Columbus's historic journey to the New Indies in 1492 and oversaw the activities of Cortez throughout the early 1500's as the Spanish Conqueror overcame the forces of Montezuma, toppling the pagan Aztec and Mayan nations and subsequently their over-riding culture, as they gradually faded into the archives of history and artifacts, replaced by the strength of the Church and the inculturation of Spain from her language to her customs.
Catholicism had taken root in Mexico, especially around Mexico City, yet the Aztecs did not go quietly. For years they had offered human sacrifice to their gods; Quetzocoetl - the bird and serpent god being the main one. This pagan practice had taken its toll in the hundreds and hundreds of thousands reaching into the millions. This was one of the main reasons our Blessed Mother came in 1531, to stop the human sacrifice; both with the pagan Aztec traditions and the senseless slaughter of the Conquistadors who had cut a swath of blood across Mexico on Cortez' march to Mexico City from the Gulf. By exemplifying a gentler, Christ-like nature, not only would the native peoples understand what the missionaries were conveying, but also remind the Spanish soldiers of their roots and prompt them to repent of their warring ways.
Into this atmosphere Our Lady chose Juan Diego to impart her message and give to him the on-going miracle of the miraculous tilma worn by Juan on the day of the apparition. In the nature of replacing the ridiculous with the sublime, Blessed Mary asked Juan to have a chapel or church built on the site where there had been an Aztec shrine. This site was the hill of Tepeyac. She asked him to go to the local bishop with this request. One can imagine the bishop's first reaction when he encountered this poor Indian approaching him...and then telling him why he was there. No one should be surprised at the Bishop's response. Bishop Zumarraga demanded a sign that this message Juan brought was truly Heaven-sent. Needless to say, Juan was intimidated and disheartened. He didn't even want to go back to the hill, but through the grace of the Holy Spirit there he was again the next day - December 12th, trembling on Tepeyac Hill both from the winter chill and in trepidation of what he would tell the Blessed Virgin and what, in turn, she would ask him to do. In the custom of the people of his day, Juan was dressed in simple pants and a shirt, sandals, a straw short-visored sombrero and a tilma, which was a scapular-like garment made from a versatile and strong-fibred cactus plant indigenous to this region. Shivering as he waited, he almost did not notice the light and the gentle whisp of wind as Our Lady hovered near the top of the hill. He moved closer and Our Lady sought to allay his fears, bidding him come closer and tell her the Bishop's reaction though she already knew. Juan related his encounter and the need for an outward sign. Our Lady responded with the request that he pick the roses growing out of the rough, semi-frozen tundra of Tepeyac. Juan was aghast to find rich red roses in full bloom and he quickly stooped to pick as many of these rich beauties as he could, gathering them in the full of his front tilma, then pulling it up against his chest to protect them in a pouch-like fashion; then scurrying off to present this "sign" to the Monsignor Zumarraga. Panting and nearly out of breath, he reached the Episcopo alerting the guards outside. His insistance to see the Bishop brought rebuffs from those in the outer circle who thought it odd that an Aztec peasant should be so bold, yet through the grace of God Juan was admitted to the Bishop's chambers and there excitedly exclaimed, "I have the sign, your Excellency!" Impatient, doubting and yet curious, Zumarraga beckoned Juan to approach him. Blessed Diego came near the foot of the Bishop and knelt in reverence as he unrolled his tilma. Juan's eyes were fixed on the fresh petals that tumbled to the floor and did not see the shock and amazement on the Bishop's face as his vision was transfixed on the image he beheld emblazoned on Juan's poor, fragmented tilma. To this day one can see at the Shrine an mega-sized enlargement of Our Lady's eye on the tilma. In the eye, one can see the reflection of the Bishop and his entourage as they stared in disbelief. While transfixed in this incredibility, Juan straightened up and, at once, realized the true miracle Our Lady had endowed. There on his tilma was an image of how she had appeared to him just hours before, in full color.
She had appeared to Juan not as Our Lady of Grace, or as a European-kind of visage, but as an Aztec woman standing on the moon, dressed in a finely detailed full-flowing dress or garment that symbolized many of the Aztec traditions. It was an image that would be accepted by the native Indians of this land moreso than the European icons of the Virgin the Spanish had brought with them. As always the Mother of God has a method to her message and the message conveyed stirred the Bishop to a reconversion and a rededication to evangelizing and serving the Indians while preaching the reason for Our Lady's visit. The results, guided by God, spread faster than the December wind blowing across the Mexican terrain. Within a short time, countless native Indians had been brought into Holy Mother Church's fold. To top that, almost instantly the people realized the error of their ways in the ancient Aztec ways of human sacrifice and abandoned the practice. The population flourished and as the Church dwindled in the Old World due to the erosion of the Protestant Reformation, the pendulum of plentitude swung to the New World in graces and conversions. It was the beginning of a reverence and veneration that would be carried through every generation up through today that sometimes even borders on the extreme. This is said in light of two visits to Mexico City in December by this author when he beheld thousands of devout Mexican people making their annual pilgrimage to the shrine on their knees, no matter the weather conditions. In contrast, the cab drivers and merchants festooned their vehicles and places of business with mardi gras-like decorations honoring La Virgen de Guadalupe. Always, the reverence and love for Mary is prevalent south of the border. It is a veneration that we would hope would permeate north of the border and bring back the reverence and respect for the Mother of God's role in our Church and daily lives. In recent years Our Lady has brought her mission ever more in focus as she asks all to help her in ending the abominal human sacrifice of abortion, a sin far worse than the human sacrifice offered to the pagan gods by the ancient Aztecs. But, as in the early 1500's and that century known as the "Century of Saints" it took great sacrifice on the part of all God's faithful ones to stop the sacrifice of God's children...so also today, we need, more than ever to offer sacrifice through penance, redemptive suffering, fasting and prayer to end the horrible sin of abortion. We have the formula. We have the forces of good on our side. We just need to act and human sacrifice will end as it did in the sixteenth century.
The on-going miracle of the tilma is a direct manifestation of supernatural intervention and for well over four centuries the image has remained ever brilliant even though it is on such a coarse cactus fiber that it would have faded within a few years had it not been from Heaven. The tilma was placed in a small church built at the top of Tepeyac Hill as Bishop Zumarraga obediently carried out Mary's wishes. This same church is still there today above the shrine at Guadalupe. In 1709 a larger basilica was built to house and venerate the image and word of this miracle spread throughout the world. Earthquakes and shifting soil caused great concern in the mid twentieth century and plans were drawn up for a newer, modern basilica which was consecrated in 1976 and today houses the famed image behind glass high above and behind the main altar. Visitors and pilgrims can see it closer by way of a conveyor belt walkway below and behind the main altar. No shrine has been more visited in the world than Guadalupe. In 1910, Pope Saint Pius X declared Our Lady of Guadalupe the patroness of Latin America and in 1945 Pope Pius XII expanded this declaration by designating her patroness of all the Americas. Our present pontiff, Pope John Paul II has endorsed this and brought with him a deep reverence for Our Lady of Guadalupe.
A very interesting and miraculous sidelight to the image has been taking form over the last few years which began with locutions to Kenneth Stollach, a messenger from the state of Washington, and was carried out by Father Walter Winrich, a dedicated pro-life Maryknoll priest who has devoted his life to Our Lady's cause. He went through all proper channels to have a sonagram taken of the image since Our Lady is depicted in the portrait as truly pregnant. This was first reported in the December 1994 issue of A Call To Peace. We understand that, though a sonagram of the original image could not be allowed, the Blessed Mother opened another door to having something of this nature performed this in December 1996 and the results were astounding. In the next installment, we will bring you more on this phenomena which proves once again the Power and Wisdom of the Almighty in sending His Own Mother to warn us and convert us to her Divine Son.
TOMORROW: the merciful miracle of Guadalupe: Divine Mercy!
Death of Saint Willibald, son of the West Saxon king Richard and Saint Boniface's cousin. Willibald was the first Englishman to make a pilgrimage to Rome in 721 as well as Jerusalem in 724 and Constantinople in 730. Though captured by Saracens, he was eventually released and spent ten years at Monte Cassino in Italy. Then Pope Saint Gregory III dispatched him to Germany where Boniface ordained him and where he ruled as bishop for forty five years before his death at Eichstatt.
Death of Blessed Pope Benedict XI, 194th successor of Peter. Benedict was poisoned by eating a tainted pig placed in his dish by conspirators.
The French ecclesiastical court at Poitiers clear Saint Joan of Arc of all suspicion of heresy, allowing her to lead a crusade to retrieve the besieged city of Orleans.
Death of Saint Thomas More who was executed at the order of King Henry VIII because he refused to give his allegiance to man, but rather Christ and His Vicar on earth - Pope Paul III.