7 Quick Takes

— 1 —

This is life right now:


I am just not a fan of this stage of life: living with a new driver. He’s careful and is doing well, but nonetheless: it’s nerve-racking.

But it’s a stage of life that’s very good for the prayer life, so there’s that.

— 2 —

The image above is downloaded from Instagram Stories – you can only see it on a phone, though, not on the browser. I do use Instagram Stories and like it – mostly putting up odd or interesting things I see over the course of the day. I’m assuming that I’ll be able to use my phone in Guatemala, so there will be lots of Instagram action once we get there in a couple of weeks.

— 3 —

Work: I had devotionals in Living Faith twice this week, but you won’t see me there again until August. I’m currently waiting on a contract for the fall’s writing project, and mulling over smaller projects to publish independently.

Reminders: Look for The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories to be published in a couple of months.

The feast of St. Mary Magdalene is coming up in a couple of weeks (July 22) – get up to speed on all things MM with the free download of the book I wrote on her, now out of print, but available as a free pdf here.

— 4 —

Made this – it’s a chimichurri sauce, probably very familiar to many of you. It’s a simple IMG_20170706_163631South American condiment – most recipes center on parsley, oregano, red pepper, garlic, vinegar and olive oil, while some add cilantro and/or some type of citrus and onion. I had it last week at a restaurant and liked it so much I wanted to try it at home. I guess it turned out well, and was far better when the flavors melded with the steak than just testing it straight up.

— 5 —

Getting ready:


I really don’t know if stuffing our system with probiotics in this form, or in yogurt or whatever form actually helps, but better safe than sorry, I suppose. We’ve been to Mexico twice and been very careful and had no problems, but still – we are going to be in Guatemala for a week with very specific travel goals, and I would hate for any of it to be derailed by GI issues. Also ordered super-strong insect repellent, so there’s that.

— 6 —

Thinking education: This is an excellent article in City Journal about “Vocational Ed, Reborn.” 

If you, like me, have a 16-year old child who is facing a near-future of all day in the classroom, following a curriculum that meets his needs and interests about half the time, and who would much rather be spending that other half working, making money and honing those types of skills, this article might give you hope, if not for your own kid’s situation, at least in general.

There is hope, too. I have a relative who just graduated from high school – except he hadn’t taken but one class in the actual high school since he was a sophomore. The program in which he was involved (in a public high school) was oriented towards medical career-training. It was intensive academic work at the high school for two years, and then transferring over to the local community college for the rest of the time. Result: by age 17, a high school diploma, an AA degree, qualified to be an EMT (or close) and a young person who is highly employable and ready to move on to a higher level of education.

What irritates me (and this is addressed in the article) is that this path is often envisioned as one for students from “lower” socio-economic groups and with “less academic potential” – which is nonsense. More educational choices for more students is what we need  – the model of Sit in a classroom for 4 years and build a high school resume so you can become part of an institution that wants you to feel that it’s a privilege for you to go into debt just to be a part of them…that model needs to be disrupted. It’s hopeful to see the small ways in which this is happening.

— 7 —

There was a big gathering of Catholics in Orlando this past weekend, organized by the USCCB, emphasis on evangelization and mission. Folks were fired up, and that’s great. But I still can’t wrap my head around the concept of having a gathering like this on a holiday weekend – the thing didn’t actually even end until the day of July 4. I’m guessing that the bishop’s group wanted it to coincide with the Fortnight for Freedom push, and to leave people revved up for that? I suppose, although that strikes me as cynical and manipulative. But still – it says something important and sad that Catholic leadership believes it’s a good thing to invite people to take holiday time at the height of summer away from their families to come instead to talk about churchy things with other churchy people.


A better place.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

Yes, not only is it American Independence Day, it’s the memorial of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. To learn more about him go here.  I included him in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Heroes under “Temperance.”

(The Book of Heroes is organized in sections associated with the virtues. It was a challenge to place figures in various categories, since most exhibited all the virtues in vivid ways, of course.)

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I’m in Living Faith again today. Two days in a row is unusual – you won’t see me there again until the end of August, though.

"amy welborn"


(Five entries per quarter is the norm)

To the left is the visual aid for that entry:

In it, I talk about my struggles to write fiction. As it happens, last week I revisited a YA novel I wrote several years ago. I actually got an agent to represent it, and she sent it out to a lot of publishing houses – and of course it was rejected. There were decent comments that came out of the rejections, though, as well as the consistent claim that while the writing was good, they couldn’t sell it. Positioned as a YA novel, since it did not involve dystopia, vampires or shopping…there was no niche for it, I suppose.

I hadn’t looked at it in a long time, but last week, I found it on my old computer, rescued the file, and read through it. Hey, this isn’t terrible.  So I think what I’m going to do is publish it on Amazon via CreateSpace. I have a bit of editing to do on it – to update some tech references and clean up some errors and weaker writing. I’ll do that after our trip to Guatemala and probably have it ready in August sometime.

It’s not perfect, but it never will be, and that’s okay. I think enough readers will find it and enjoy it to make the effort worthwhile.  Which is the point of today’s entry, really.

And I am working on another couple of pieces of fiction, one short and one long – plus I’m probably going to have at least one more non-fiction book to work on over the course of the next year. I’m waiting on the details of that to be worked out.  Which is another reason unschooling will be the preferred pedagogy for 7th grade….

July 3 Notes

If I could offer a visual aid to that entry, I would. It would be this:

(Not my loyalty, of course. Just so you know.)

  • So, Pope Francis issued a statement that stands in a bit of contrast to the Pontifical Academy for Life’s. That’s good, although the statement still suffers from the Syndrome of the Passive Voice. Here’s a thought experiment: all church people making official pronouncements or preaching swear off the passive voice, and see what changes – see what it forces the speaker to say more directly and openly.
  • Our summer has been odd in general – structured around the 16-year old’s work and both boys’ independent travel, to some extent. It’s fine. It’s life. But I told them that what that means is that when there’s an open day…we take it and run with it.
  • So yesterday, after 8:30 Mass (we’d intended to go to 5pm Saturday, but at 4, the 16-year old got a call asking him to go in to work, and at this early stage in his employment, he’s thinking it’s wise to say “yes” to those requests if at all possible), we went to Rickwood Caverns State Park.
  • It’s not renowned as any great local attraction, but it’s…there, and we’ve passed the signs for it on the interstate for 9 years now, so why not? It advertises a “fossil trail” and there’s a cave…so, okay.
  • Well, it was a decent afternoon, but not the most memorable. The trail is essentially a one-mile loop through some woods, with nowhere near the interesting rock formations that you’d find at any number of other local trails – although with all the rain we’ve had recently (quite a contrast from last year’s drought), the lush vegetation was pretty to see. For the twenty minutes we spent with it. Didn’t see any fossils.
  • There’s a pool, fed by the waters from the lake in the cavern, so we spent some time in that. In past summers, we’ve spent a lot of time at the pool, but not this summer. We have been members of our local Levite Jewish Community Center, which has a fabulous pool, but as the years went on, I was finding that we just weren’t using the center enough outside the summer months to justify the cost. As it turns out, this summer has been so rainy and relatively cool that by this point, we would hardly have been able to use it anyway, so perhaps that was a good decision.
  • But…well, there’s a pool, so they spent some time there.
  • Then they dried off and we did the caverns tour – it was not cheap, but, as I told the boys, given how the Alabama legislature has cut funds to state parks, and how some of them are struggling, I don’t mind throwing a little extra cash their way.
  • The cave is fine. Smaller than some, but with some good formations and a lot of changes in elevation that are interesting to experience.
  • But oh….why must cave tours be so lame? As is with so much in life, I blame Disney – the Jungle Cruise ride, in particular, which I’m going to claim (whether it’s true or not) set a standard for the jokey tour guide performance, which for some reason, even serious tours of real places – as opposed to fake swamps with animotronic hippos – have decided they should emulate.
  • So, here’s what I’d like to experience with a cavern tour: a en explanation of the geology and geological history – why is this cave here? How was it formed? What’s its relation to other local geography? How was it discovered? Did ancient peoples know of it and use it? What’s its modern history of use and development?
  • It’s possible to convey all of that in a coherent, engaging, and yes, entertaining way. I know it. All things are possible with God. 
  • But with cavern tour guides? Seems an unattainable goal. Instead we get a string of unconnected facts – touching on the geology and history, but not presented in a coherent way. We get lame jokes about the formations, and we’re supposed to think a formation is particularly interesting because it looks like a unicorn or something instead of because of what it is. 
  • “You can probably see fossils in that wall there. There’s one tour guide who knows a lot about them and could tell you every one, but I can’t do that. ”  Oh. Okay, thanks.
  • Here’s a hint for struggling state parks with attractions like this: Work hard to improve the level of your tours: Make them destinations, so that people will hear about them – informed, interesting, engaging – and want to come just for that.
  • Well, it was not a waste of time – it’s always good to see new things. We were back home by five, and ready for the rest of the day…
  • Which involved, in part, starting to watch The Seven Samurai. I had never seen it, and the boys, while interested, balked at the 3.5 hour running time. I told them we’d split it up, so we did (although I think I could have watched the whole thing in one sitting – it’s that good – she opines of the film widely recognized as one of the finest ever made.). I had recorded it off of TCM a while back, so we just watched about 90 minutes of it last night and will finish it tomorrow.
  • How did they like it? They liked it a lot – it’s a very entertaining film, with clearly drawn characters.
  • Not sure what the week holds at this point beyond the rest of The Seven Samurai, a few shifts of work, the dentist and a piano lesson. I’ll squeeze something in there…..


"amy welborn"

Seen at a party at pavilions in the park near our house. 



Seen in my house. 

We just  bought a new car.

Well, not “we” – I just bought a new car. And not “new,” either – it’s a 2003 Honda Civic.

No, that’s not the dumb thing – although maybe. Time will tell.

We haven’t needed a second car for a very long time, and perhaps we don’t “need” one now – but given the question of driving to school, which looms in August, the categories of “need” and “want” do become confused.

I mean, we could manage with one car – we could work out another year of carpooling, I could drive J to work when he needs to or he could drive and I could sit home while he’s got the car at work, but really – when a 2K car comes up that runs….I decided it was time.

That said, it’s a manual transmission, which I’m very comfortable driving and which the 16-year old has no experience. So given that, and since he’s been driving the newer car (a 2013 Mazda 3 hatchback – we don’t do minivans or SUVs – better gas mileage, plus it’s a deterrent to buying big things at estate sales and other places) for a year and a half, it’s got more safety features, he’ll keep driving that one to school.  I’ll teach him to drive the manual – that’s one of the reasons I got it, because I think everyone should know how to drive a manual transmission and have a sense of of the differences – I think driving a manual transmission helped me understand how a car works a bit more, which is useful.  But it will be mostly my car, the car the younger one and I use during the day to take him to homeschool classes at the science museum or the Cathedral, and so on.

(Although I will say that this strikes me as smart – a friend of mine with many children says they always have a manual transmission for the younger drivers in their household because it’s a deterrent to being on phones while they drive….food for thought.)

So anyway, I’d been thinking I’d get serious about this second car business in late July, but I was still keeping my eyes open. I had thought about looking for a good lease deal, but honestly, when I started looking into the total costs, the insurance gave me pause. It’s bad enough adding a young driver – adding a second car to that mix makes it even worse, and if the car is newish, look out. So yeah, I was looking for a beater.

Last week, this one popped up on the neighborhood discussion board – I feel better buying a car from someone in the neighborhood – so I checked it out. It’s fine. It’s ragged IMG_20170628_150238in some ways – they hit a deer a few years ago and never fixed the front bumper –  but it will get the job done, and here’s the thing that gives me pause – it has about 139k miles on it. My 4-year old Mazda, which I bought new, has 110K.

I drive cars. Hard. A lot.

The way I look at it, it needs to last a year, two, tops. My 16-year old is working and saving up for a car of his own choosing, and at the present rate, he might have enough to accomplish that goal next summer or early fall – at which point, he can buy his, I might ditch both of these and get something else. Or keep the Mazda and donate the other.

(We’d still be a year away from the youngest even getting his learner’s permit at that point, so no reason to keep the Honda.)

Oh, okay. So this was not intended to be a discourse on the new/old car.

Driving a manual transmission again put me in mind of one of the Dumbest Moments of My Life – one that I don’t think I’ve ever written about, not because I’m ashamed, but because there was no reason – no teachable moment. 

It was five years ago – the fall of 2012. The beginning of September.

In a few days, the boys and I would be setting out on the Epic Roadschooling Adventure in Europe. For new readers – the short version is that I had experienced a real crisis of conscience on schooling, decided that I had no excuses not to homeschool anymore, but also knew that I was highly likely to chicken out at the last minute. My father had died the year before, I had the funds available, so I decided I would force our hand with the homeschooling by taking us out of the country. No way could I go crawling back to the boys’ school in August then, admitting that I’d changed my mind.

(And for the record – I look back on that, even though it was only five years ago, and I can’t believe I did it. I can’t believe I planned and executed 3.5 months in Europe for the three of us. I really was desperate, I think!)

So here we were in early September, and I was playing the Isn’t it Awesome You Don’t Have to Go to School card as fast and furiously as I could, working to fight off the “I miss my friends” complaints. We were doing all kinds of fun stuff – and hey, we’re going to Europe!  – and on this particular day, a school day just a couple of days before we were to leave, we went out to lunch.

Why? Because we can! Because we’re homeschooling!


We’d gone to this place in the neighborhood where the boys’ old school was, and I’d parked in a lot across the road – the lot, as it happens (and this matters) where the boys’ dentist was then located.

At the time, I was driving another manual transmission – a Honda Accord coupe of some 2009ish vintage, I think. It was black and had heavily tinted windows from the previous owner, which I always meant to get changed out, but never did, and only gave me trouble once – Ann Engelhart was visiting – I think we were filming EWTN Bookmark –  and I had taken her to the shrine in Hanceville, and we were on back roads, on our way to Ave Maria Grotto. Blue lights appeared in my rearview – I knew I wasn’t speeding, so I suspected it was the windows – tinted past the legal limit, I knew because the car dealer had told me.

I will never forget the look of surprise on the officer’s face as I rolled down that blacked-out window on the 2-door black coupe, and in the car sat two early middle-aged white women.

(And yes, it was the windows that had caught his notice. He let me off with a warning and the name of his friend’s window tinting business…..never did get them changed, though)..

Okay, back to that September day.

We had our lunch, we were all full of ourselves for being able to eat lunch out and go on a big trip and such, and we finished walked out to the parking lot and…

..where was my car?

It…wasn’t there.  The parking lot was mostly empty.


My first thought was that the lot was prohibited to people who weren’t visiting or working in any of the offices in the building and it had been towed. We went inside and there was our dentist at the front desk, with her lunch, catching up on records.

I explained the situation and she was as puzzled as we were. She called the building management and asked if there were parking restrictions, and they said no – there’s no sign to that effect posted, so no, anyone could park there.

The four of us went back out to the parking lot and stood there in the spot where my car should have been.  We contemplated the possibilities. I concluded that my car had been stolen. Well, this was new – and not convenient considering we were going to be out of the country for three months. A stolen car? I said I was all about the new experiences, but this is not what I had in mind.

And then, Michael, who was seven at the time, said slowly, “Mom….isn’t that our car?”

We all looked across the street.

There, in the Arby’s drive through was a police officer, a pick-up truck, and right up against the rear bumper of said pickup – my little black Honda.

You got it. I had failed to engage the parking brake fully – or perhaps at all, being so intent on showing the boys a Grand Homeschooling Time – and it had just rolled over the curb (there wasn’t any  barrier), into the street, into the Arby’s drive-through line and right into the back of this pickup.

Can you imagine being the driver of the pickup, just sitting there waiting to place your order, and you look up and see this…car with blacked out windows slowly rolling your way, inexorably, never stopping until it hit you?

Well, all I can say is that thank goodness whatever traffic there was wasn’t affected, and thank goodness it was a huge, oversized pickup that my car hit, for there was no damage at all.

Except, as they say, to my pride.

I gave the insurance lady a good laugh – that was nice for her.

So we’re back in the stick shift world, and it’s fine. And believe me, it’s like a mantra to me now:

Parking brake. Parking brake. Parking. Brake.

7 Quick Takes

— 1 —

This is a very link-ish quick takes. I’m writing other things, thinking about other things, so I’m just going to toss out links to recent reads and listens.

But first, let me bring a bit of sunshine to your day, via a wallpaper mural in the basement of a home in which an estate sale was held last week:



What would you say? Late 70’s?

— 2 —

Planned Parenthood’s Brutal Century – a good synopsis of the deeply embedded anti-human eugenics presumptions of not only Planned Parenthood but so much of “enlightened” American intellectual culture of the late 19th through mid-20th century.



— 3 —

You have perhaps heard the story of little Charlie Gard, born with a rare and fatal genetic disease. 

Charlie Gard suffers from a very rare genetic condition, and is now living in Great Ormond Street Hospital with the help of a ventilator. When doctors there determined that they could not save his life, the hospital made a decision to remove the ventilator. His parents objected, and raised enough funds to transport the child to the US for experimental treatment. But their right to find treatment for their child was rejected in a series of court decisions. This week the European Court of Human Rights, the parents’ last hope for relief, ruled that the experimental treatment offered “no prospects of success” and the baby was “being exposed to continued pain, suffering, and distress.”

The court affirmed the hospital’s right to remove life support. “Our parental rights have been stripped away,” protested Chris Gard, the child’s father. The parents reported that Great Ormond Street Hospital had refused their request to have Charlie brought home for his last night, or to allow him to die peacefully in a hospice.

The English bishops and the Pontifical Academy for Life have issued statements on the case. Neither statements addresses the issue of state power over medical decisions. 

The injustice is that Charlie will die when the hospital administration wants, and where the hospital administration wants. His parents have been deprived of their right to supervise his case. They could not take him the US for experimental treatment. They could not take him home, to die in peace. As one of our readers observed, Charlie was essentially kidnapped, so that the authorities would be sure that he died on schedule.

Two tepid statements, from the local bishops’ conference and from the Vatican, might have been appropriate if the discussion had centered on the decision to turn off the ventilator. But they missed the essential point of the controversy entirely. The state—the hospital, the courts—had seized the power to preside over a child’s death, regardless of the parents’ wishes. Sadly, the Catholic hierarchy did not protest.

Catholic Hierarchs yesterday: An individual’s and family’s right to make decisions regarding freedom, justice and a living supersedes a State’s civil arrangements and legal borders.

Catholic Hierarchs today: A State’s civil arrangements supersedes a family’s authority to make decisions regarding the life of its members. 

I mean, I thought bridges were better than walls, and we’re not supposed to erect walls to keep people from exercising their freedom.

Pick one, guys. Pick one.

Another commentary:

John Paul II was well aware of the ways in which governments can steal the legitimate authority of parents and families: in “Familiaris Consortio” he affirmed that “the church openly and strongly defends the rights of the family against the intolerable usurpations of society and the state.” One would imagine that one such “intolerable usurpation” would be a government denying two parents the right to try to save their baby boy’s life. And one would imagine that an institution entitled “the Pontifical Academy for Life” would recognize that.



— 4 —

On a more cheerful note, our local new source, the Birmingham News, has given good coverage this week to Catholic matters: the ordination of two priests last Saturday, and the celebration of the Mass in the Extraordinary Form last night in honor of the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

Here’s the story of one of the new priests.

And the other.

And the Mass. 

You can view the list of music from the Mass here (it’s a pdf – scroll down for 6/29) at the part of the parish website where orders of worship eventually get posted. 


— 5 —

I found this interesting – Does God want you to spend $300,000 for College? …in which a NYTimes reporter asks Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins about the moral implications of high tuition. In my opinion, he’s not tough enough on Jenkins. The question has implications, not just for Catholic higher education, but Catholic education at all levels.


— 6 —

Related, by the same author in the same article series on faith and money: The Monk Who Left the Monastery to Fix Retirement Plans. 

So has Mr. Lynam concluded that his former colleagues need him more than his former students? Not exactly. “I’m not irreplaceable in the classroom,” he said. “But I did not see another company serving teachers in the way that I can serve them. It’s not that one form of service is higher or lower.”

It is a very different role, though — one he describes as being a “suffering prevention specialist.” His professional conversations now feel a lot like confession, he said, with people sharing stories of unpaid debts, betrayals and sure things that were far from it. He listens, and then he must hold the mirror up to those who may not want to see the truth.

“Perhaps one of the cardinal sins that I see the most, though it’s not a popular one to talk about, is sloth,” he said. “Some people are afraid but also a little lazy, and they don’t really want to do the hard work of facing their mistakes or lack of organization and knowledge on these subjects and take responsibility.”

— 7 —

This week’s In Our Time listen – in between all the rain – was on Pushkin’s poem, Eugene Onegin.  

Well, that’s it. That’s all I have left, folks!



For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!


Why highlight these saints so often when there is so much…news happening?

Simple: Because through the saints, we learn how to be disciples. We learn how rich, textured and diverse Catholic life is. Because saints lived in the past, when we make reflecting on the life, work, witness or writing of a saint part of our day, we situate our faith more properly than we do if we situate our faith only in the present moment.

In short: We grow more from a few moments of being quietly attentive to the real world around us, consciously situated in the greater cosmic context of traditionally-centered faith, than we do from one more session of racing through scads of information and opinion via a screen. I know I do, at least.

So, St. Irenaeus. We’ll start with Mike Aquilina:

St. Irenaeus is a giant. Pay no mind to the modern academics who portray him as a meanie nun out to rap gnostic knuckles with a crozier-sized ruler. St. Irenaeus was a scholar’s scholar, a biblical theologian of the first rank. He was a global diplomat who actually
succeeded at making peace. And he was a holy, plain-speaking, and truth-telling bishop. If today’s gnostic resurgents don’t like him, it’s because, after eighteen centuries and more, his critique is still right as rain and still raining all over the gnostic parade.

Then, B16:


Irenaeus was in all probability born in Smyrna (today, Izmir in Turkey) in about 135-140, where in his youth, he attended the school of Bishop Polycarp, a disciple in his turn of the Apostle John. We do not know when he moved from Asia Minor to Gaul, but his move must have coincided with the first development of the Christian community in Lyons: here, in 177, we find Irenaeus listed in the college of presbyters. In that very year, he was sent to Rome bearing a letter from the community in Lyons to Pope Eleutherius. His mission to Rome saved Irenaeus from the persecution of Marcus Aurelius which took a toll of at least 48 martyrs, including the 90-year old Bishop Pontinus of Lyons, who died from ill-treatment in prison. Thus, on his return Irenaeus was appointed Bishop of the city. The new Pastor devoted himself without reserve to his episcopal ministry which ended in about 202-203, perhaps with martyrdom.

Irenaeus was first and foremost a man of faith and a Pastor. Like a good Pastor, he had a good sense of proportion, a wealth of doctrine, and missionary enthusiasm. As a writer, he pursued a twofold aim: to defend true doctrine from the attacks of heretics, and to explain the truth of the faith clearly. His two extant works – the five books of The Detection and Overthrow of the False Gnosis and Demonstration of the Apostolic Teaching (which can also be called the oldest “catechism of Christian doctrine”) – exactly corresponded with these aims. In short, Irenaeus can be defined as the champion in the fight against heresies. The second-century Church was threatened by the so-called Gnosis, a doctrine which affirmed that the faith taught in the Church was merely a symbolism for the simple who were unable to grasp difficult concepts; instead, the initiates, the intellectuals – Gnostics,they were called – claimed to understand what was behind these symbols and thus formed an elitist and intellectualist Christianity. Obviously, this intellectual Christianity became increasingly fragmented, splitting into different currents with ideas that were often bizarre and extravagant, yet attractive to many. One element these different currents had in common was “dualism”: they denied faith in the one God and Father of all, Creator and Saviour of man and of the world. To explain evil in the world, they affirmed the existence, besides the Good God, of a negative principle. This negative principle was supposed to have produced material things, matter.

Firmly rooted in the biblical doctrine of creation, Irenaeus refuted the Gnostic dualism and pessimism which debased corporeal realities. He decisively claimed the original holiness of matter, of the body, of the flesh no less than of the spirit. But his work went far beyond the confutation of heresy: in fact, one can say that he emerges as the first great Church theologian who created systematic theology; he himself speaks of the system of theology, that is, of the internal coherence of all faith. At the heart of his doctrine is the question of the “rule of faith” and its transmission. For Irenaeus, the “rule of faith” coincided in practice with theApostles’ Creed, which gives us the key for interpreting the Gospel, for interpreting the Creed in light of the Gospel. The Creed, which is a sort of Gospel synthesis, helps us understand what it means and how we should read the Gospel itself.

In fact, the Gospel preached by Irenaeus is the one he was taught by Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, and Polycarp’s Gospel dates back to the Apostle John, whose disciple Polycarp was.
The true teaching, therefore, is not that invented by intellectuals which goes beyond the Church’s simple faith. The true Gospel is the one imparted by the Bishops who received it in an uninterrupted line from the Apostles. They taught nothing except this simple faith, which is also the true depth of God’s revelation. Thus, Irenaeus tells us, there is no secret doctrine concealed in the Church’s common Creed. There is no superior Christianity for intellectuals. The faith publicly confessed by the Church is the common faith of all. This faith alone is apostolic, it is handed down from the Apostles, that is, from Jesus and from God. In adhering to this faith, publicly transmitted by the Apostles to their successors, Christians must observe what their Bishops say and must give special consideration to the teaching of the Church of Rome, pre-eminent and very ancient. It is because of her antiquity that this Church has the greatest apostolicity; in fact, she originated in Peter and Paul, pillars of the Apostolic College. All Churches must agree with the Church of Rome, recognizing in her the measure of the true Apostolic Tradition, the Church’s one common faith. With these arguments, summed up very briefly here, Irenaeus refuted the claims of these Gnostics, these intellectuals, from the start. First of all, they possessed no truth superior to that of the ordinary faith, because what they said was not of apostolic origin, it was invented by them. Secondly, truth and salvation are not the privilege or monopoly of the few, but are available to all through the preaching of the Successors of the Apostles, especially of the Bishop of Rome. In particular – once again disputing the “secret” character of the Gnostic tradition and noting its multiple and contradictory results – Irenaeus was concerned to describe the genuine concept of the Apostolic Tradition which we can sum up here in three points.

a) Apostolic Tradition is “public”, not private or secret. Irenaeus did not doubt that the content of the faith transmitted by the Church is that received from the Apostles and from Jesus, the Son of God. There is no other teaching than this. Therefore, for anyone who wishes to know true doctrine, it suffices to know “the Tradition passed down by the Apostles and the faith proclaimed to men”: a tradition and faith that “have come down to us through the succession of Bishops” (Adversus Haereses, 3, 3, 3-4). Hence, the succession of Bishops, the personal principle, and Apostolic Tradition, the doctrinal principle, coincide.

b) Apostolic Tradition is “one”. Indeed, whereas Gnosticism was divided into multiple sects, Church Tradition is one in its fundamental content, which – as we have seen – Irenaeus calls precisely regula fidei or veritatis: and thus, because it is one, it creates unity through the peoples, through the different cultures, through the different peoples; it is a common content like the truth, despite the diversity of languages and cultures. A very precious saying of St Irenaeus is found in his book Adversus Haereses: “The Church, though dispersed throughout the world… having received [this faith from the Apostles]… as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them and hands them down with perfect harmony as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world” (1, 10, 1-2). Already at that time – we are in the year 200 – it was possible to perceive the Church’s universality, her catholicity and the unifying power of the truth that unites these very different realities, from Germany, to Spain, to Italy, to Egypt, to Libya, in the common truth revealed to us by Christ.

c) Lastly, the Apostolic Tradition, as he says in the Greek language in which he wrote his book, is “pneumatic”, in other words, spiritual, guided by the Holy Spirit: in Greek, the word for “spirit” is “pneuma”. Indeed, it is not a question of a transmission entrusted to the ability of more or less learned people, but to God’s Spirit who guarantees fidelity to the transmission of the faith.
This is the “life” of the Church, what makes the Church ever young and fresh, fruitful with multiple charisms.

For Irenaeus, Church and Spirit were inseparable: “This faith”, we read again in the third book of Adversus Haereses, “which, having been received from the Church, we do preserve, and which always, by the Spirit of God, renewing its youth as if it were some precious deposit in an excellent vessel, causes the vessel itself containing it to renew its youth also…. For where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and every kind of grace” (3, 24, 1). As can be seen, Irenaeus did not stop at defining the concept of Tradition. His tradition, uninterrupted Tradition, is not traditionalism, because this Tradition is always enlivened from within by the Holy Spirit, who makes it live anew, causes it to be interpreted and understood in the vitality of the Church. Adhering to her teaching, the Church should transmit the faith in such a way that it must be what it appears, that is, “public”, “one”, “pneumatic”, “spiritual”. Starting with each one of these characteristics, a fruitful discernment can be made of the authentic transmission of the faith in the today of the Church. More generally, in Irenaeus’ teaching, the dignity of man, body and soul, is firmly anchored in divine creation, in the image of Christ and in the Spirit’s permanent work of sanctification. This doctrine is like a “high road” in order to discern together with all people of good will the object and boundaries of the dialogue of values, and to give an ever new impetus to the Church’s missionary action, to the force of the truth which is the source of all true values in the world.

Repeating what I said yesterday, if you have a mind to study the Church Fathers via these talks either as an individual or as a parish study group, feel free to use the free pdf of the study guide I wrote for OSV.  For example the reflection questions for the section on Clement, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen

1. These thinkers of early Christianity did not shy from engaging with non-Christian thinking. How would you describe their relationships to it? What seems to you to be their standard for what elements of non-Christian thinking to accept or reject?

2. Apologetics is still an important part of Christian expression. What issues have you experienced as being areas in which you or others you know are called upon to offer an “apologia”? Are there any resources you have found particularly helpful?

3. All of these thinkers — and most in this book — emerged from the East, the birthplace of Christianity. What do you know about the Eastern Catholic churches today? Have you ever attended an Eastern Catholic liturgy?

4. Irenaeus battled Gnostic heresies in which only an elite had access to the ultimate saving spiritual knowledge. Can you see any currents of this element of Gnostic thinking in the world today? Do you ever catch yourself thinking along these lines?

5. These thinkers were engaged in very creative work, but work that was very faithful to the tradition they had been handed by the apostles. What kind of creative, faithful ways of teaching and expressing faith are you aware of today? If you were in charge of evangelization  for the Church in your area, what kinds of approaches would you encourage?

6. Justin Martyr felt that certain elements of his pagan life had actually worked to prepare him for his Christian life. Are their any elements of your life before your fuller coming to faith that you feel have prepared you for deepening your faith today?

7. Ignatius and Origen both longed for martyrdom. What do you think about that?

8. Several of these thinkers indicate the importance of the bishop of Rome. How do you see the importance of the papacy expressed in the Church and the world today?

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