minima maxima sunt

The Small things are the Great things; as in a grain of mustard seed.

Archive for the month “August, 2012”


The story of the christian faith can sometimes be a very narrow story, especially when Tradition is overlooked in light of the written word. In the ancient church, the word wasn’t something confined to just the Bible but to the apostolic authority passed on from Christ Himself. In fact the very reason we even have a Bible is because of Tradition in this sense, and the rejection of tradition in many ways has left us in the dark about much of the christian faith. I would bet that if you asked a person on the street about St. Peter, Paul, Mary, or even John, they would at least recognize the name as one surrounding the story of Jesus Christ; but if you asked the same person about St. Bartholomew, they would probably not even know that he was one of the very apostles of Christ. This is because there is not much said about him in the Bible; but if we look into tradition, even tradition that isn’t dogmatic, there is a tale to be told about this Saint.

St. Bartholomew’s tale, like most of the apostles, ends in martyrdom, that ideal which was essential in the early church and would be considered insane today. An ideal that leaves many christians who must at the least see the whole foundation of their faith resting on the shoulders of the One Crucified, cringing at the consequences of holding the faith to the point of death, but was desired by many in those early years of the church and to this day. His story begins where all the stories of the apostles really begin, and that is with Christ “sending them out” in the great commission. The word apostle translates to “one who is sent” in Greek, and it is here that the transition from disciple to apostle occurs, and where the story of Bartholomew begins.

Bartholomew is said to have travelled as far as India, and may have left a copy of the Gospel of Matthew there, written in Hebrew. This comes from Eusebius and also from Jerome, both writers from the 4th century. In other stories He is said to have preached in Mesopotamia, Persia and Armenia of which he is considered the patron saint and where he was martyred.

One tradition holds that his martyrdom was by beheading and another that he was flayed alive and crucified. This later tradition can be seen in the art and iconography surrounding the Saint as he is shown holding his skin or wearing it like a stole, a priestly garment. I was reminded of the parable of Jesus concerning wineskins, and thought how this would play into such symbology. As mentioned earlier, the idea of martyrdom isn’t a popular one today, but in ancient times even the most gruesome deaths were seen as almost a badge of honor, and grounds for instant sainthood, but I think the point is that the such stories are meant to shock us. The traditions grew to remind us, to make us consider, to speak for those who’s voices were silenced. The fact that a story is grotesque may cause us to cringe, but it is certain to cause us to listen.

The Ball and the Cross/Stephen of Hungary

St. Shephen King of Hungary by Ladislav Nemeth

O.K., so maybe you know my affinity for G.K. Chesterton, and picked up on the title of one of my favorite books by the “Apostle of Common Sence”. The Ball and the Cross is a fiction that plays out a debate. The story starts as a bit of classic fantasy just like you would expect from the 1920’s, but then shifts to the main characters which are a Roman Catholic and an atheist, who having vowed to kill each other in a dual, end up hashing through the arguments, debates and perspectives until they develop a mutual respect for each other and become friends. The clash of the ancient faith and enlightenment skepticism are often offset by other world-views and philosophies which the main characters encounter in their attempts to begin their dual.

St. Stephen of Hungary

The naming of the book has to do with an old christian symbol knows as the Globus Cruciger, which translates as cross bearing orb, or in Chestertonian, a ball and a cross.

It was while looking into the history of St. Stephen of Hungary that in noticed the Confessor King was holding one of these objects, in an icon as well as a statue. The globus cruciger is often seen in the hands of leaders from the middle ages and on. It represents the world, (the globe) and the authority of Christ (the cross). As early as the 5th century this symbol can be found in religious art or writing, and later on would top off church buildings. It is also noteworthy that the world is a globe and not some flat slab or disc; another proof to debunk the flat earth myth.

St. Stephens feast day is August 16th, in the current roman calender, and he lived from 1001- 1038 AD. He is one of several Confessor Kings, or Kings that confessed Christ and are considered Saints, and like some of the other Confessor Kings, he was a warrior as well as a contemplative.  A sort of King Arthur to Hungary, he would bring the country out of the turmoil of rebellion from pagan princes and turned Hungary into a christian nation.

Some may find it strange the idea of a confessor king. Too often the cry of church and state is applied to the medieval church which really misses the point. In fact too often the church and state did not see eye to eye. Emperors were excommunicated and  popes were imprisoned. The tension which existed between the Church and State flies in the face of claims of modern critics who use such church/state stereotypes to push their own idiology/state agendas today. There was a balance then between the civil government and the church, and while the two often did find the time to work together, they also protected their own authorities from control by the other. Much of this would change after the reformation, though to some extent existed in the Eastern Roman Empire, as kings, and Caesars would also take on the responsibilities not only of the empire or state but also of the church, and it is here that the blending of church and state become apparent. Even in cases where the church and state overlapped, it should be understood within the time; after all christianity was the common belief and world view of the middle ages.

Stephen, like the other confessor kings were men who walked in both worlds. Like the ball and the cross, they are symbols on a personal level of the world and the cross, of people who are living in the world but not of it but caught up into a unity of ideas. Like any person of faith be they pauper or king, Stephen walks in two worlds, he is a king who lived his faith, he holds authority over his domain, and yet found his own world the domain of the King of Kings.


Orthodox Icon of the Dormition

The subject of Mary has often been an area of contention between the Catholic Church and many of the sects which were born out of the reformation. Accusations which often imply idolatry and pagan influence are flung in the face of the ancient church in complete disrespect of the this woman which the Bible testifies “Ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes”. Adding to the propaganda and pessimism which are the platforms of anti Catholicism are the facts that some of the church’s doctrines weren’t formally defined until later years. The Assumption is one of these, being formally defined in the Catholic Church in 1950.

At first glance this seems fairly convincing, after all if this were an ancient belief in the church why did it take so long to be dogmatically and infallibly defined? Even for myself, while in the process of returning to the catholic faith, beliefs about Mary seemed like a hurdle which would be difficult to cross over.

One of the first surprises in my research came from the Lutherans. It was almost a shock to find that a non catholic church, whose founder played a huge part in the reformation, still prayed his rosary, though he did shorten the “Hail Mary” to avoid actually requesting intercession. The Anglicans also retained the rosary for a while. Today the practice isn’t as popular but can still be found in both denominations.

Dormition of Mary from a French Book of Hours, c 1530

Delving into the Orthodox and other Catholic rites; churches which were not part of the western empire, was also very helpful. After all most of the attack on Catholicism comes from people who never even considered the orthodox or eastern catholic rites. Here we find a common history, full of debates, councils, conflicts, controversies, but also a faith that was for the most part shared. All the proof that the Catholic Church’s beliefs were really consistent with early christianity could be backed up by simply looking at the beliefs of the churches which were not tagged with the stigma of “Rome”. The Real Presence in the Eucharist, the use of creeds, liturgy, priests, saints, monasticism, councils, art, and even beliefs about Mary are backed up by the tradition of the orthodox and easter catholic rites.

It was while seeking an Icon at a local Greek orthodox community that I first saw an Icon of the Dormition, or Kemisis. I remember thinking “Even this!”. It was true. Even I had my doubts about the Assumption; but the belief wasn’t a mere invention of some man in Rome. It was the defining of a belief that had been a part of the traditions of the church from the earliest times; and while there are some differences in the Dormition and Assumption, they are really talking about the same event, and celebrated on the same day, August the 15th.

The belief holds that Mary was bodily taken into heaven after her death, or falling asleep, which is what the word Dormition means.

The Dormition

The Dormition Icon has several startling elements that surround the central scene of Mary’s funeral. Apostles, Bishops and saints surround her, Peter holding incense on the left and Paul on the right. In the image at the top of the page an angel is seen cutting off the hands of a Jewish priest names Athonios. The traditional account relates that in hatred of the Theotokos, he attempted to knock over the funeral bier and the angel appeared and lopped his hands off. Seeing this miraculous intervention caused Athonios to repent, and his hands were healed and he became a faithful follower of Christ. This may also have something to do with the belief of Mary as the Ark, a typology mentioned by several early writers who saw the relation of Mary, as God bearer, to the Ark of the Covenant. Note the position of Peter and Paul like the cherubim on the Ark; Athonios like Uzzah, being struck down for touching the Ark.

What is most amazing is the juxtasposition of the most familiar iconic representation of the Mother and Child. Instead of Mary holding the infant Jesus, we see in the mystical light of heaven, Jesus, holding the soul of Mary, appearing like a child, in his arms. This to me is the most profound of all, for in everything concerning Mary there is a focus on her Son, and here is no different. Even in death, Mary points us toward Jesus, reminding us of the hope we all have in Christ.

Clare of Assisi

St. Clare

Born in 1174 as Chiara Offreduccio, St. Clare is known as the first woman follower of St. Francis of Assisi.  At the age of 18 she left her home to follow in the religious life, embracing the life of poverty, love and contemplation, which are the trademarks of the Franciscans.

Devoting her time to the poor and the lepers in her region, Clare is not only a testimony to the faith in the middle ages, but also another testimony to the importance of women in the middle ages, especially in relation to the church.

Catholic history is chock full of women saints who were educators, mystics, servants, examples of humble faith and set examples for all of us to follow down through the ages. She stands against the sad reality of modern stereotypes about women in the church and history, which often tries to dismiss the role of women in the church and in European life. Christianity from the start set the stage for  women to advance in status from the ancient world. Women are mentioned in the New Testament, in martyrologies, in the mass, have churches names after them. St. Clare not only participated in that rag-tag group of mendicants which would in later years become one of the most recognized monastic communities, she also established her own rule, The Way of Gospel Living, thus setting into motion the Order of Saint Clare, or the Poor Clares which as of 2011 it was recorded there were over 20,000 Poor Clare Nuns.

The feast day of St. Clare falls on August 11th, 1253, the day she died and two days after Pope Innocent IV, confirmed her rule as the official guide for the Poor Clares.

“Totally love Him, Who gave Himself totally for your love.” – St. Clare


The Transfiguration and Last Supper in a Bible from Floreffe Abbey, c. 1155

August the 6th is the Feast of the Transfiguration. Known also as Metamorphosis and Preobrazhenie in Greek and Slavic respectively; along with baptism, crucifixion, resurrection and the ascension it is one of the major events of the life of Christ found in the Gospel.

The story from the Gospels tells of Jesus taking Peter, James and John to a mountain, and while there Jesus begins to shine like the sun, and his clothes turn white as the light. Moses and Elijah appear and converse with Jesus, and a cloud surrounds them where a Voice is heard saying “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him..”

A story like this is like a puzzle which all fits together into a complete picture, but non the less, is made up of several pieces that are distinct. We see Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and Prophets make an appearance, which apart from demonstrating the communion of saints as being a valid function within the church, tells us something about the authority of Christ over the law and tradition, and is a sort of trinity. We hear the Father speak, and a cloud appears; similar to the events at Jesus’ baptism, a picture of the Trinity. It seems like two opposing triangles representing the Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and another trinity of God, His Law and His prophets, like the two triangles that form the star of David.


Transfigure comes from Latin and has the same components as it’s Greek and Slavic counterparts. Trans = to cross or change; figure = shape or form. It means to change shape or form and in the story we understand this to be exactly what happens, something is revealed, which becomes visible. The Son of Man, appearing in human form, reveals the eternity of his divinity. It is sacramental and in a way is very similar to the transubstantial quality of the Eucharist. In the transfiguration, something is revealed that was hidden to the senses, the glory of the almighty shines through. The Eucharist, being the real presence of Christ, becomes something without changing its physical appearance, a change in substance rather than appearance. It was a delight to find both the transfiguration and the last supper pictured on the page from Floreffe Abbey above as this fit perfectly with what was in my mind about this feastday, but then I thought that this must have been also in the mind of the artist as well, seeing the link between the Eucharist and the transfiguration.

Psalter Mappa Mundi

Psalter World Map c. 1260 AD

Several posts on minimamaximasunt have delved into the maps of the world from the middle ages. Some have been utilitarian, and some have been works of art and interpretation. The world map here is known as the Psalter world map and was found in a 13th century psalter.

The mappa is thought to be from around 1260 and the artist is unknown. As with many of the mappae from this period, east is at the top, and Jerusalem at the center. In the east, or rather at the top is Christ with his hands in the act of blessing.

Here also is another example of the earth being drawn circular, demonstrating the belief in a spherical world which was known from the time of the Greeks. This map predates Columbus by over two hundred years, and is among many others which do the same, thus raising the question of how the myth of the flat earth ever carried any weight in the enlightenment, let alone through the twentieth century. Further, that it is found in a religious manuscript helps to put to rest other stereotypes and myths about the middle ages and the Church. The more I read about these times the more I am amazed at the involvement of the Church and Christianity, as well as Islam, in the development of modern science.


August from the Très riches heures du duc de Berry

August was originally the sixth month of the year and it’s Roman name was Sextilis. It became the eighth month when January and February were added around 700 BC and its name was changed to Augustus in 8 BC by Julius Caesar.

Augustus was the first Emperor and founder of the Roman Empire, but he was never referred to as Emperor, choosing the term Princeps Civitasor “First Citizen”. It was during the reign of Augustus that the “Roman Peace” began and is during this time that the Incarnation occurs with the Nativity of Christ which is figured to be anywhere from 4 BC to 9 AD.

Château d’Etampes today

Our picture from the Duke of Berry’s famous Book of Hours, shows a classic summer scene with a Middle Age twist. The Château d’Etampes takes the scene in the background, rising into a blue summer sky, in the foreground a company of travellers or possibly a hunting party? Leading the company is a Falconer. And in the center, between all this we see a group of people enjoying a nice swim in the cool waters of a lake. This is interesting, to me, because it is another proof against one of those “myths” about the middle ages which claims that people who lived then didn’t take baths and therefore smelled bad.

The feasts on the General Roman Calendar celebrated during the month of August are:
1. Alphonsus Liguori, Memorial
2. Eusebius of Vercelli; Peter Julian Eymard, Opt. Mem.
4. John Vianney, Memorial
5. Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
6. Transfiguration, Feast
7. Sixtus II and companions; Cajetan, Opt. Mem.
8. Dominic, Memorial
9. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Opt. Mem.
10. Lawrence, Feast
11. Clare, Memorial
12. Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
13. Pontian and Hippolytus, Opt. Mem.
14. Maximilian Kolbe, Memorial
15. Assumption, Solemnity
16. Stephen of Hungary, Opt. Mem.
19. Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
20. Bernard, Memorial
21. Pius X, Sunday
22. Queenship of Mary, Memorial
23. Rose of Lima, Opt. Mem.
24. Bartholomew, Feast
25. Louis of France; Joseph Calasanz, Opt. Mem.
26. Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
27. Monica, Memorial
28. Augustine, Memorial
29. Martyrdom of John the Baptist, Memorial

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