Saint Cyril of Alexandria

Little is known for certain of Cyril’s early life. He was born c. 376, in the small town of Didouseya, Egypt, modern-day El-Mahalla El-Kubra. A few years after his birth, his maternal uncle Theophilus rose to the powerful position of Patriarch of Alexandria. His mother remained close to her brother and under his guidance, Cyril was well educated. His writings show his knowledge of Christian writers of his day, including EusebiusOrigenDidymus the Blind, and writers of the Church of Alexandria. He received the formal Christian education standard for his day: he studied grammar from age twelve to fourteen (390–392), rhetoric and humanities from fifteen to twenty (393–397) and finally theology and biblical studies (398–402).

Recognized as a great teacher of the Church, Cyril began his career as archbishop of Alexandria, Egypt, with impulsive, often violent, actions. He pillaged and closed the churches of the Novatian heretics—who required those who denied the faith to be re-baptized—participated in the deposing of Saint John Chrysostom, and confiscated Jewish property, expelling the Jews from Alexandria in retaliation for their attacks on Christians.

Cyril’s importance for theology and Church history lies in his championing the cause of orthodoxy against the heresy of Nestorius, who taught that in Christ there were two persons, one human and one divine.

The controversy centered around the two natures in Christ. Nestorius, Bishop of Constantinople, would not agree to the title “Theotokos” or “God-bearer” for Mary. He preferred “Christ-bearer,” saying there are two distinct persons in Christ—divine and human—joined only by a moral union. According to Nestorius, Mary was not the mother of God but only of the man Christ, whose humanity was only a temple of God. Nestorianism implied that the humanity of Christ was a mere disguise.Read More »

Saint Eligius

Eligius (also known as Eloi) was born to Roman-Gallo parents around 590 near Limoges in France. His father was a metalsmith and Eligius, learning this craft from him, became extremely skillful in the trade. Eventually he was appointed master of the mint under King Clotaire II of Paris. Eligius developed a close friendship with the King and his reputation as an outstanding metalsmith became widespread.

Eligius took advantage of this royal favor to built several churches and a monastery at Solignac, obtain alms for the poor, and to ransom captive Romans, Gauls, Bretons, Moors, and especially Saxons, who were arriving daily at the slave market in Marseilles. His friend recalled him with love:

“He was tall with a rosy face. He had a pretty head of hair with curly locks. His hands were honest and his fingers long. He had the face of an angel and a prudent look. At first, he was used to wear gold and gems on his clothes, having belts composed of gold and gems and elegantly jeweled purses, linens covered with red metal and golden sacs hemmed with gold and all of the most precious fabrics including all of silk. But all of this was but fleeting ostentation from the beginning and beneath he wore a hairshirt next to his flesh and, as he proceeded to perfection, he gave the ornaments for the needs of the poor. Then you would see him, whom you had once seen gleaming with the weight of the gold and gems that covered him, go covered in the vilest clothing with a rope for a belt.”

In 629, Eligius was appointed Dagobert’s first counselor. Later, on a mission for Dagobert, he persuaded the Breton King Judicael to accept the authority of Dagobert.

Eligius then fulfilled his desire to serve God as a priest, and was ordained in 640. Later he was made bishop of Noyon and Tournai. His apostolic zeal led him to preach in Flanders, especially Antwerp, Ghent, and Courtai where he made many converts.

Eligius died on December 1, around 660, at Noyon. He is the patron of metalworkers. Several writings of Eligius have survived: a sermon in which he combats the pagan practices of his time, a homily on the Last Judgment, and a letter written in 645, in which he begs for the prayers of Bishop Desiderius of Cahors. There are fourteen other pseudepigraphical homilies that are no longer attributed to him.

Saint Columban

Saint Columban, [born c. 543, Leinster [Ireland]—died Nov. 23, 615, Bobbio [Italy]; feast day November 23), abbot and writer, one of the greatest missionaries of the Celtic church, who initiated a revival of spirituality on the European continent.

Educated in the monastery of Bangor, County Down, Columban left Ireland about 590 with 12 monks (including Saints Attala, Gall, and Columbanus the Younger) and established himself in the Vosges Mountains at Annegray, then in Gaul.

As a young student, Columban was so impressed by the dedicated Irish monks who introduced him to religion and literature that he decided to join their ranks. He entered a monastery at Bangor, County Down, not far from his home, and placed himself under the spiritual guidance of its founder, Comgall. For some 30 years he lived quietly in prayer, work, and study. Desiring greater self-sacrifice, Columban asked his abbot if he could go into voluntary exile, leaving his native Ireland to start a monastery on the Continent. Twelve other monks set out with him in 590 for the land of the Franks.

They settled for a while in Burgundy at the invitation of King Childebert, founding three monasteries. So many young men were inspired by their religious zeal that soon more than 200 monasteries were formed, looking to Columban as their spiritual father. The Irish monks with their new, forceful kind of Christianity, stressing self-discipline and purity of life, presented a striking contrast to the complacent churchmen already living among the Franks. Columban spoke out repeatedly against the cruelty and self-indulgence of the kings and royal families, stressing the necessity of penance and introducing a new custom of frequent personal confession.Read More »

Blessed Berka Zdislava

Berka Zdislava was from a Moravian family, born in Křižanov, in what is now the Žďár nad Sázavou District of the Czech Republic. She was reportedly an unusually devout child, who at age seven ran away into the forest with the intention of living a hermit’s life of prayer and solitude. She was forcibly returned by her family, and made to live a normal childhood from that point on.

During her childhood, she had gone with her mother to serve Queen Kunegunda, who probably first exposed her to the Dominicans. It is possible that Zdislava met St. Hyacinth and Bl. Ceslaus, and she eventually became a lay Dominican. She continued to live a devout life, receiving Holy Communion nearly every day (which was an extremely rare practice in the beginning of the 13th century).  She also had visions and worked many miracles (including raising someone from the dead)

Later, her family arranged for her to marry Bohemian lord Havel of Markvartice. He was a good man, but he tested Zdislava’s patience by asking her to dress in a worldly manner and join in his somewhat indulgent feasts.

As a married woman with four children, Zdislava continued to live a life of remarkable personal austerity, worked tirelessly in the care of the poor and dispossessed, and was, unusually for her era, a frequent recipient of the Eucharist. Tatar invasions of Central Europe (1240–42) were causing large numbers of people to leave their homes during this period, and a large number of refugees sought refuge at the Lemberk Castle in northern Bohemia, where Zdislava lived with her family and assisted these refugees as much as possible.Read More »

Herod and The Wise Men

As a newborn, Jesus was placed in a manger because there was no room in a proper shelter. And He was in that manger when the shepherds visited.

Not so with the Wise Men, however.

We’re introduced to the Wise Men (or Magi) in the Gospel of Matthew:

[After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”] ~ Matthew 2:1-2

Now, that word “after” at the beginning of verse 1 is kind of ambiguous. How long after? A day? A week? A few years?

Fortunately, we can infer from two pieces of evidence in the text that the Wise Men visited Jesus at least a year after His birth, and probably closer to two years. First, notice the details of Jesus’ location when the Wise Men did show up bearing their gifts:

[After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.] ~ Matthew 2:9-12 (emphasis added)Read More »

Saint Edward the Confessor

Edward was the seventh son of Æthelred the Unready, and the first by his second wife, Emma of Normandy. Edward was born between 1003 and 1005 in Islip, Oxfordshire, and is first recorded as a ‘witness’ to two charters in 1005.

The family spent several years in exile in Normandy after the Danish invasion of 1013. Æthelred was briefly reinstated as king but after his death in 1016, the Danes once again seized the crown.

England was ruled by Canute until his death in 1035 when Edward tried to capture the crown himself but failed.

Later, Edward vowed that he would make a pilgrimage to St Peter’s in Rome if he managed to return safely to his kingdom.

In 1042, his dream became reality when he succeeded Canute’s son on the throne. But Edward found it impossible to leave his subjects to make the pilgrimage to Rome.

The Pope released him from his vow on the condition he founded a monastery and dedicated it to St Peter. In accordance with the Pope’s wishes, Edward built a new cathedral in Norman style to replace the Saxon church at Westminster. The cathedral became known as Westminster Abbey.Read More »

Saint Anselm of Canterbury

Anselm was born in the city of Aosta in 1033 in what was then the Kingdom of Burgundy (modern-day northern Italy) to a noble and propertied family. His father, Gundulph, was by birth a Lombard and seems to have been harsh and violent; his mother, Ermenberga, was prudent and virtuous and gave Anselm careful religious instruction.

At the age of fifteen, the devout young Anselm tried to become a monk but could not obtain the consent of either his father or the abbot of the local monastery. In 1059, after his mother died and his father’s harshness became unbearable, he left home, crossed the Alps and wandered through Burgundy and France. After a short time at Avranches, he entered the Benedictine Abbey of Bec in Normandy, France as a novice in 1060, where he studied under the eminent theologian and dialectician Lanfranc (c. 1005 – 1089). Just three years later, he was elected Prior to the Abbey and then, in 1078, he succeeded Lanfranc as Abbot.

During these quiet years he wrote his first and most important works of philosophy (the “Monologion”, the “Proslogion”, the “Dialogues on Truth”, “Free Will” and the “Fall of the Devil”) and, under Anselm’s jurisdiction, Bec grew in wealth and reputation, becoming one of the first seats of learning in Europe.

In 1092, at the invitation of Hugh, Earl of Chester, Anselm crossed to England where, against his will, he was offered the prestigious position of Archbishop of Canterbury. However, his tenure was not an easy one, with King William II of England constantly trying to appropriate church lands, offices and incomes, and even to have Anselm deposed. In 1097, Anselm set out for Rome in an attempt to settle some of the English King’s ecclesiastical problems, but was refused entry back into England and remained in exile until King William died in 1100, during which time he continued to write.

William’s successor, Henry I, was no easier to deal with and in 1103 Anselm again set out for Rome and was again refused re-entry back into England. It was only after King Henry was threatened with excommunication by the Pope that some reconciliation took place, and Anselm was able to once again take up his position. However, only three years later, in 1109, he died. He was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 1494, and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1720.Read More »