Dec 222017
 

On this date in 401, Innocent I was installed as pope and served until his death in 417. He was quite something of a stabilizing influence on the church at a time of doctrinal turmoil, with a wide-ranging influence on Catholicism that is still alive and well in the Catholic church today. Among other things, he is reputed to have been the son of the previous pope, putting the papacy on the path to being a dynasty (which never materialized, of course). That notion was short lived for all kinds of reasons. Celibacy was not actually the main issue at the time. From the beginning of his papacy, Innocent set himself up as the general arbitrator of ecclesiastical disputes in both the East and the West. He confirmed the prerogatives of the Archbishop of Thessalonica, and issued a decretal on disciplinary matters referred to him by the Bishop of Rouen. He defended the exiled John Chrysostom and consulted with the bishops of Africa concerning the Pelagian controversy. He was also the pope when the issue of the Biblical canon was settled for good. Until Innocent’s papacy the question of what books belong in the Bible and which ones do not was a hot topic. Pardon my dribble, but I do feel the need to write about the controversies that Innocent was involved in. They concern church dogma which is a sore spot with me. Spoiler alert: DOGMA SUCKS (says the ordained minister). I’d get into trouble with my presbytery if they read that remark. But I don’t care. I defended Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam during my examination for ordination, and they ordained me anyway. So, they knew what they were getting. In any case, I’m not a member of my presbytery in New York any more. I belong to Buenos Aires presbytery and most of them can’t speak English. Furthermore, they never showed any interest in me when I lived in Argentina, and I’m sure they care even less now that I live in Asia. I could, in theory, join a newly formed presbytery in Cambodia, but that seems a bit excessive. I’m retired from pastoral work, and the last thing in the world (anywhere in the world), I want to do is attend presbytery meetings.

We know very little about the early life of Innocent, and the sources are deeply conflicting. According to his biographer in the Liber Pontificalis, Innocent was a native of Albano Laziale (now a comune in the city of Rome) and the son of a man called Innocentius, but his contemporary St Jerome referred to him as the son of the previous pope, Anastasius I, a unique case (as far as we know) of a son succeeding his father in the papacy. According to Urbano Cerri, Innocent was a native of Albania (which sounds to me like a misidentification of Albano – but maybe it’s the other way around).

Innocent I was a vigorous defender of the papacy’s right to be the ultimate resort for the settlement of all ecclesiastical disputes, and he set the stage in that regard for centuries to come. His communications with Victricius of Rouen, Exuperius of Toulouse, Alexander of Antioch and others, as well as his actions on the appeal made to him by John Chrysostom against Theophilus of Alexandria, show that opportunities of this kind were numerous and varied. I’ll spare you the drama associated with Chrysostom. It has little to do with church dogmatics, and much more to do with politics in the empire, and power struggles in the church in the east. Pelagius is another matter.

Pelagius was a Celtic monk who was accused by Augustine of Hippo and others of denying the need for divine aid in performing good works. They understood him to have said that the only grace necessary was the affirmation of the law of God. He was further accused of saying that humans were not wounded by Adam’s sin and were perfectly able to fulfill the law without divine aid. More importantly, Pelagius denied Augustine’s theory of original sin, that is, all humans (with the exception of Mary and her mother) bear Adam’s sin and have to be baptized to remove the sin, otherwise they are denied entry into heaven. Well in my oh-so-humble opinion, the doctrine of original sin is nonsense. The doctrine, along with a whole raft of dogma clung to by the Catholic church, is the result of theologians like Augustine applying the logic of Aristotle to the Bible. When you start applying logic, spirituality goes out the window and you are left with dogma. I’ll go with spirituality.

Pelagius wrote two major treatises which are no longer extant, On Nature and Defense of the Freedom of the Will. In these, he defends his position on sin and sinlessness, and accuses Augustine of being under the influence of Manichaeism by elevating evil to the same status as God and teaching pagan fatalism as if it were a Christian doctrine. Manichaeism stressed that the (human) spirit was created by God, while material substance (the body) was corrupt and evil. St Paul probably believed this, so I’m not sure that all the shouting was about. Pelagius held that everything created by God was good, therefore, he could not see how God had made humans fallen creatures. (Augustine’s teachings on the Fall of Adam was not a settled doctrine at the time the Augustinian/Pelagian dispute began.) The view that humans can avoid sinning, and that we can freely choose to obey God’s commandments, stand at the core of Pelagian teaching. Pelagius stressed human autonomy and freedom of the will. Of course, as always in the case of teacher and disciple, there is a difference between what Pelagius taught, and what his followers believed. Most theologians now believe that Pelagius was completely orthodox in his teachings.

Pelagianism was condemned at the 15th Council of Carthage in 411. Afterwards, Augustine and four other bishops wrote a letter urging Pope Innocent I to condemn Pelagianism which he did. He also confirmed the decisions of the synod of the province of proconsular Africa, held in Carthage in 416, confirming the condemnation which had been pronounced in 411 against Cælestius, who shared the views of Pelagius. He also wrote in the same year in a similar sense to the fathers of the Numidian synod of Mileve. Augustine was shocked that Pelagius and Celestius were not denounced as heretics, however, and called the Council of Carthage in 418 (one year after Innocent’s death) and laid out nine points of dogma which Pelagius was accused of denying:

    Death came from sin, not man’s physical nature.

    Infants must be baptized to be cleansed from original sin.

    Justifying grace covers past sins and helps avoid future sins.

    The grace of Christ imparts strength and will to act out God’s commandments.

    No good works can come without God’s grace.

    We confess we are sinners because it is true, not from humility.

    The saints ask for forgiveness for their own sins.

    The saints also confess to be sinners because they are.

    Children dying without baptism are excluded from both the kingdom of heaven and eternal life.

If I were you, I’d read the list, laugh, and forget about it. If you want to put it in a nutshell, Augustine and his ilk are saying that humans are bad through and through, but are saved by God’s grace. Otherwise, they will just be pure evil. Your free will is no help. Furthermore, if you are not baptized (properly – by a priest), you can’t go to heaven. Where’s my rubbish bin?

It is accepted that the canon of the Bible was closed c. 405 by Innocent, when he sent a list of the sacred books to a Gallic bishop, Exsuperius of Toulouse, confirming the list approved by the Councils of Rome (382), Hippo (393) and Carthage (397), and identical with the much later pronouncements of the Council of Trent (1545-63), except for some uncertainty in the manuscript tradition about whether the letters ascribed to Paul were 14 or only 13, in the latter case possibly implying omission of the Epistle to the Hebrews (which actually makes no claims to Pauline authorship anyway). Innocent’s canon is the current Catholic Bible which contains 73 books. Innocent did no more than assert that he was the final authority, and it was time to move on. Protestants later excluded 7 of the books that Catholics included (and Luther wanted to exclude many more). Like it or not, you have to accept the fact that the Bible was created by humans, with a great deal of debate about what should be included and what excluded, for several centuries. Innocent ended the debate for Catholics, but that should not be the end of the matter if you have a brain and actually use it. The supposed “authority” of the Bible – in ALL matters if you listen to some people – rests on accepting the decisions that clergy made over 16 centuries ago according to their ideas of what Christianity is, and should be. If you believe that their decisions were guided exclusively by the hand of God, you put more trust in them than I do.

Innocent died on 12 March 417. Accordingly, his feast day is now celebrated on 12th March, though from the 13th to the 20th century he was commemorated on 28th July. In 846, Pope Sergius II gave approval for the relics/remains of Innocent to be moved by Duke Liudolf of Saxony, along with those of his father and predecessor Anastasius, to the crypt of the former collegiate church of Gandersheim, now Gandersheim Abbey, where they now rest.

Gandersheim is in Lower Saxony, so I’ll go with a popular recipe from the region rather than a 5th century Roman recipe recreation (for variety’s sake). If you want to visit Innocent’s relics you have to visit Gandersheim, and you should try out the local specialties. They’re all based on peasant dishes and are hearty rather than refined (in the haute cuisine sense). I’ll go with Steckrübeneintopf (turnip stew). Despite the name, meat is an important part of this dish, but you can use almost all kinds of meat. You can use chicken, lamb, beef or pork, and local sausages may also be included, such as Bregenwurst, Kohlwurst, Pinkelwurst. In the recipe ingredient list I’ve just put 1 lb of meat. You choose, either one kind or a mixture.  “Turnip” (Steckrüben) here means swede or rutabaga.  You can cook this dish in a casserole in the oven after browning all the ingredients if you prefer, or use a slow cooker. I’m a stovetop kinda guy because it gives me more control. Cooking times will vary enormously depending on the meat that you choose.

Steckrübeneintopf

Ingredients:

1 lb meat, cut into serving pieces
8 oz bacon, chopped
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
¼ cup butter
5 cups broth (approx)
2 ½ rutabaga, peeled and diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 celery root, peeled and diced
1 lb potatoes peeled and diced
2 tsp chopped fresh marjoram
5 tbsp heavy cream (optional)
2 bay leaves
1 tsp chopped fresh savory
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper

Instructions

Melt half of the butter in a heavy-bottomed pot and sauté the bacon until lightly browned. Add the meat and continue cooking until it is browned on all sides, stirring regularly. Add the onions and sauté until soft. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Set aside the cooked ingredients from the pot, melt the rest of the butter in the same pot, add the vegetables and sauté until soft.

Add back the cooked meats and onions, plus the broth to cover, and herbs. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer, lid on, for about an hour and a half. Check the seasonings and make sure the meat is cooked through. Add cream if you wish, stir, and garnish with parsley. Serve in the cooking pot.

Dec 072017
 

Today is the feast day of Saint Ambrose of Milan, also known as Aurelius Ambrosius (c. 340 – 4 April 397), a bishop of Milan who became one of the most influential ecclesiastical figures of the 4th century. He was the Roman governor of Liguria and Emilia, headquartered in Milan, before being made bishop of Milan by popular acclamation in 374. Ambrose was a staunch opponent of Arianism, a branch of Christianity that had been declared heretical by the First Council of Nicaea in 325, but which was still very popular in much of Christendom, including Milan and Lombardy. I’ll spare you the long theological explanation. It bored me rigid when I studied it as an undergraduate, and things have not improved. It all has to do with the nature of the Trinity: God, the Father; God the Son; and God the Holy Spirit. The Council of Nicaea asserted that the three members of the Trinity are co-eternal, that is, have always existed, whereas Arians believed that only God the Father has existed for all time, and God the Son was begotten by God the Father in time (that is, the Son is not eternal). I am pretty sure that the average Christian of the time had no understanding of the theological arguments that raged among the church fathers, and, furthermore, had no interest in them. But bishops, cardinals, and popes had deeply held views and came to blows often over such matters, sometimes literally.  In fact, it is claimed that the original Saint Nicholas (who morphed into Santa Claus), slapped Arius (main supporter of Arianism) on the ear at one point at the Council of Nicaea.

Ambrose was born into a Roman Christian family about 340 and was raised in Gallia Belgica, the capital of which was Augusta Treverorum. His father is sometimes identified with Aurelius Ambrosius, a praetorian prefect of Gaul, but some scholars identify his father as an official named Uranius who received an imperial constitution dated 3 February 339. His mother was a woman of intellect and piety and a member of the Roman gens of Aurelii Symmachi. Thus, Ambrose was cousin of the famed orator Q. Aurelius Symmachus. There is a legend that as an infant, a swarm of bees settled on his face while he lay in his cradle, leaving behind a drop of honey. His father considered this a sign of his future eloquence and “honeyed” tongue. For this reason, bees and beehives often appear in Ambrose’s symbology.

After the early death of his father, Ambrose followed his father’s career. He was educated in Rome, studying literature, law, and rhetoric. Praetorian prefect Sextus Claudius Petronius Probus first gave him a place in the council and then in about 372 made him governor of Liguria and Emilia, with headquarters at Milan, which was then (after Rome) the second capital in Italy.

In the late 4th century there was a deep conflict in the diocese of Milan between the Nicene Church (followers of the rulings of the Council of Nicaea) and Arians. In 374 the bishop of Milan, Auxentius, an Arian, died, and the Arians created problems over the succession. Ambrose went to the church where the election was to take place, to prevent the expected turmoil and addressed the people. His speech was interrupted by a call, “Ambrose, bishop!” which was taken up by the whole assembly. Ambrose was known to be Nicene Christian in belief, but also acceptable to Arians due to the charity shown in theological matters in this regard. At first, he energetically refused the office, for which he was in no way prepared: he was not even baptized and had no formal training in theology. He fled to a colleague’s home seeking to hide, but his host received a letter from the emperor, Gratian, praising the appointment of Ambrose, so he gave him up. Within a week, Ambrose was baptized, ordained, and duly consecrated bishop of Milan.

As bishop, he immediately adopted an ascetic lifestyle, apportioned his money to the poor, donating all of his land, making only provision for his sister Marcellina (who had become a nun), and committed the care of his family to his brother. This raised his popularity even further, giving him considerable political leverage over even the emperor. Ambrose also wrote a treatise called “The Goodness of Death”. Augustine deemed him to be a happy man as bishop, but celibacy was a burden to him.

After consecration as bishop Ambrose studied theology with Simplician, a presbyter of Rome. Using his excellent knowledge of Greek, which was then rare in the West, he studied the Bible in Greek as well as the works of the Greek church fathers, such as, Philo, Origen, Athanasius, and Basil of Caesarea, with whom he also exchanged letters. He applied this knowledge to his preaching which, among other things, led to the conversion of Augustine of Hippo, who, up to that point, had thought poorly of Christian preachers.

In Augustine’s Confessions there is a curious anecdote about Ambrose which has been interpreted as relevant to the history of reading in the West:

When [Ambrose] read, his eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still. Anyone could approach him freely and guests were not commonly announced, so that often, when we came to visit him, we found him reading like this in silence, for he never read aloud.

This is a celebrated passage in modern scholarly discussion leading some scholars to argue that Augustine thought that Ambrose was weird for reading silently, rather than reading out loud, and that Ambrose was one of the first people in the West to read to himself. I was taught this, in fact. It is, however, not a legitimate conclusion to draw from the passage. In Ambrose’s time few people were literate, and books were hard to come by because they had to be copied by hand and were expensive to produce. Consequently, anyone getting hold of a new book read it out loud to as many people as were interested. This was the normal practice so that large numbers of people could benefit from the book. Reading was, therefore, akin to public speaking. Ambrose was not an oddity because he had figured out how to read to himself: everyone could. He was an oddity because he preferred to read to himself, rather than to others. In this way he could absorb the text and contemplate it in his own fashion at his own pace, and not be distracted by the need to entertain others. The real historical question is therefore, “How did scholars routinely hammer out complex theological issues for themselves when the reading of significant texts were typically public events?”

In his early confrontation with the Arians, Ambrose sought to theologically refute their propositions, which were contrary to officially defined orthodoxy. The Arians appealed to many high-level leaders and clergy in both the Western and Eastern empires. Although the Western Emperor Gratian supported orthodoxy, the younger Valentinian II, who became his colleague in the Empire, was Arian. Ambrose did not sway the young prince’s position. In the East, Emperor Theodosius I likewise professed the Nicene creed; but there were many adherents of Arianism throughout his dominions, especially among the higher clergy.

In this contested state of religious opinion, two leaders of the Arians, bishops Palladius of Ratiaria and Secundianus of Singidunum, confident of numbers, prevailed upon Gratian to call a general council from all parts of the empire. This request appeared so equitable that he complied without hesitation. However, Ambrose feared the consequences and prevailed upon the emperor to have the matter determined by a council of the Western bishops. Accordingly, a synod composed of 32 bishops was held at Aquileia in the year 381. Ambrose was elected president and Palladius, being called upon to defend his opinions, declined. A vote was then taken, when Palladius and his associate Secundianus were deposed as bishops.

Nevertheless, the increasing strength of the Arians proved a formidable task for Ambrose. In 385 or 386 the emperor and his mother Justina, along with a considerable number of clergy and laity, especially the military, professed Arianism. They demanded two churches in Milan, one in the city (the Basilica of the Apostles), the other in the suburbs (St Victor’s), be allocated to the Arians. Ambrose refused and was required to answer for his conduct before the council. He went, and his eloquence in defense of the Church reportedly so overawed the ministers of Valentinian that he was permitted to leave without surrendering the churches to the Arians The next day, when he was performing divine service in the basilica, the prefect of the city came to persuade him to give up at least the Portian basilica in the suburbs. As he still refused, certain deans or officers of the court were sent to take possession of the Portian basilica, by hanging up imperial escutcheons in it, to prepare for the arrival of the emperor and his mother at the ensuing festival of Easter.

In spite of imperial opposition, Ambrose declared,

If you demand my person, I am ready to submit: carry me to prison or to death, I will not resist; but I will never betray the church of Christ. I will not call upon the people to succour me; I will die at the foot of the altar rather than desert it. The tumult of the people I will not encourage: but God alone can appease it.

In 386 Justina and Valentinian received the Arian bishop Auxentius the younger, and Ambrose was again ordered to hand over a church in Milan for Arian usage. Ambrose and his congregation barricaded themselves inside the church, and the imperial order was rescinded.

The imperial court was displeased with Ambrose’s religious principles and adamant opposition, but the emperor soon needed his help. When Magnus Maximus usurped the supreme power in Gaul, and was meditating a conquest of Italy, Valentinian sent Ambrose to dissuade him from attacking, and he was successful. However, a second, later, embassy failed. Magnus entered Italy and Milan fell. Justina and her son fled, but Ambrose remained in Milan and helped his parishioners in need by melting down the church silver. Theodosius I, emperor of the East, espoused the cause of Justina, and regained the kingdom, but only after great bloodshed. Ambrose excommunicated Theodosius for the massacre of 7,000 people at Thessalonica in 390, in retaliation for the murder of the Roman governor there by rioters. Ambrose told Theodosius to imitate David in his repentance as he had imitated him in guilt — Ambrose readmitted the emperor to the Eucharist only after several months of penance, showing the power that a strong bishop could wield, even over an emperor.

Soon after acquiring the undisputed possession of the Roman empire, Theodosius died at Milan in 395, and two years later (April 4, 397) Ambrose also died. He was succeeded as bishop of Milan by Simplician. Ambrose’s body may still be viewed in the church of Saint Ambrogio in Milan, where it has been continuously venerated — along with the bodies identified in his time as being those of Saints Gervase and Protase (the whereabouts of their remains having been revealed to Ambrose in a dream).

Ambrose ranks with Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory the Great, as one of the Latin Doctors of the Church, but I’ll pass over his theology. Read it on your own if you are interested. Instead I’ll say a word about his interest in music. Ambrose is traditionally credited with advancing the repertory of Ambrosian chant, also known simply as “antiphonal chant”, a method of chanting where one side of the choir alternately responds to the other. It is not known if he actually composed any chants, but they are named in his honor due to his contributions to the music of the Church in general. He is credited with introducing hymnody from the Eastern Church into the West, and composed several original hymns as well, four of which still survive, along with music which may not have changed too much from the original melodies. It is said that he composed the hymn “Te Deum” to celebrate his baptism of  Augustine of Hippo, his most celebrated convert. Importantly, for this time of year, he is credited with composing the Advent chant Veni Redemptor Gentium (Come, Redeemer of the People). It’s in Latin, but you may be helped by this version which has a translation into Italian — or maybe that won’t help you.

In turn, to celebrate Ambrose, I cannot resist a pun (which generally I hate). Ambrose is patron of bees and beekeeping, so we need honey in today’s recipe, and his name suggests “ambrosia,” food of the gods. That means our recipe has to be honey ambrosia, a spread made with honey and butter.

Honey Ambrosia

Ingredients

1 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup honey
¾ lb butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions

Place the sugar, cream, and honey in a sauce pan. Heat on medium-high heat and stir continuously with a wooden spoon until it comes to a boil. Boil for 1 minute.

Place the softened butter in a blender or food processor and pour the hot honey mixture over the butter. Blend or pulse on medium speed until the ingredients and smooth and well mixed, adding the vanilla during the process.

Pour the mixture into an airtight container, cover, and let cool. Then refrigerate.

Honey ambrosia can be used as a spread for bread, toast, or biscuits, or it can be used between layers of cakes. Use your imagination.

 

May 262017
 

Today is the feast day of Augustine of Canterbury, who died on this date in 604. He was a Benedictine monk who was sent to Britain by pope Gregory the Great to convert the relatively new settlers from northern Europe generally called the Anglo-Saxons. He eventually became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in the year 597, securing in perpetuity the primacy of Canterbury over all other Anglican archdioceses (although from his time until the English Reformation it was a Catholic archdiocese).

After the withdrawal of the Roman legions from their province of Britannia in 410, the inhabitants were left to defend themselves against the attacks of groups from the north German plain and Scandinavia. Before the Roman withdrawal, Britannia had been converted by the Romans to Christianity. Archeology testifies to a growing presence of Christians, at least until around 360. After the Roman legions departed, non-Christian groups settled the southern parts of the island while western Britain, beyond the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, remained Christian. Thus, the old British church developed in isolation from Rome under the influence of missionaries from Ireland, and was centered on monasteries instead of bishoprics. Other distinguishing characteristics were its distinctive method of calculating the date of Easter and the style of the tonsure that clerics wore. Evidence for the survival of Christianity in the eastern part of Britain during this time includes the survival of the cult of Saint Alban and the occurrence in place names of Eglos and Eglwys, Brythonic Gaelic for “church” (possibly Anglicized as Eccles).

It was against this background that Gregory I decided to send a mission, often called the Gregorian mission, to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity in 595. The Kingdom of Kent was ruled by Æthelberht, who married a Christian princess named Bertha some time before 588, and perhaps as early as 560. Bertha was the daughter of Charibert I, one of the Merovingian kings of the Franks. As one of the conditions of her marriage, she brought a bishop named Liudhard with her to Kent. Together in Canterbury, they restored a church that dated to Roman times —possibly the current St Martin’s Church. Æthelberht was not a Christian at this point but allowed his wife freedom of worship. It’s an open question whether Æthelberht and/ or Bertha asked Pope Gregory to send missionaries to Kent or whether Gregory initiated the mission on his own. Bede, in the 8th century recorded a famous story in which Gregory saw fair-haired Anglo-Saxon boy captives from Britain in the Roman slave market and was inspired to try to convert their people. He is reputed to have asked (in Latin) who they were and was told they were “Angli” (Angles) to which he replied, “Non Angli sed Angeli” (Not Angles but Angels). I prefer Sellar and Yeatman’s humorous mistranslation – “Not Angels but Anglicans.”

In 595, Gregory chose Augustine to head the mission to Kent. The pope selected monks to accompany Augustine and sought support from the Frankish royalty and clergy in a series of letters, of which some copies survive in Rome. He wrote to King Theuderic II of Burgundy and to King Theudebert II of Austrasia, as well as their grandmother Brunhild, seeking aid for the mission. Gregory thanked King Chlothar II of Neustria for aiding Augustine. Besides hospitality, the Frankish bishops and kings provided interpreters and Frankish priests to accompany the mission. By soliciting help from the Frankish kings and bishops, Gregory helped to assure a friendly reception for Augustine in Kent, as Æthelbert was unlikely to mistreat a mission which visibly had the support of his wife’s relatives and people. Moreover, the Franks appreciated the chance to participate in mission that would extend their influence in Kent. Chlothar, in particular, needed a friendly realm across the Channel to help guard his kingdom’s flanks against his fellow Frankish kings.

Sources make no mention of why Pope Gregory chose a monk to head the mission. Pope Gregory once wrote to Æthelberht complimenting Augustine’s knowledge of the Bible, meaning that Augustine was well educated. But he was also a good administrator. Gregory was the abbot of St Andrews as well as being pope, and he left the day-to-day running of the abbey to Augustine, the prior. Augustine was accompanied by Laurence of Canterbury, his eventual successor to the archbishopric, and a group of about 40 companions, some of whom were monks. Soon after leaving Rome, the missionaries halted, daunted by the nature of the task before them. They sent Augustine back to Rome to request papal permission to return. Gregory refused and sent Augustine back with letters encouraging the missionaries to persevere.

In 597, Augustine and his companions landed in Kent, achieving some initial success soon after their arrival. Æthelberht permitted the missionaries to settle and preach in his capital of Canterbury where they used the church of St Martin’s for services. Neither Bede nor Gregory mentions the date of Æthelberht’s conversion, but it probably took place in 597. In the early medieval period, large-scale conversions required the ruler’s conversion first, and Augustine is recorded as making large numbers of converts within a year of his arrival in Kent. Also, by 601, Gregory was writing to both Æthelberht and Bertha, calling the king his son and referring to his baptism. A late medieval tradition, recorded by the 15th-century chronicler Thomas Elmham, gives the date of the king’s conversion as Whit Sunday, or 2 June 597; there is no reason to doubt this date, although there is no other evidence for it.

Augustine established his episcopal see at Canterbury. It is not clear when and where Augustine was consecrated as a bishop. Bede, writing about a century later, states that Augustine was consecrated by the Frankish Archbishop Ætherius of Arles in Gaul after the conversion of Æthelberht. Contemporary letters from Pope Gregory, however, refer to Augustine as a bishop before he arrived in England. A letter of Gregory’s from September 597 calls Augustine a bishop, and one dated ten months later says Augustine had been consecrated on Gregory’s command by bishops of the German lands.

Soon after his arrival, Augustine founded the monastery of Saints Peter and Paul, which later became St Augustine’s Abbey, on land donated by the king. This foundation has often been claimed as the first Benedictine abbey outside Italy, and that by founding it, Augustine introduced the Rule of St. Benedict into England, but there is no evidence the abbey followed the Benedictine Rule at the time of its foundation. In a letter Gregory wrote to the patriarch of Alexandria in 598, he claimed that more than 10,000 Christians had been baptized; the number may be exaggerated but there is no reason to doubt that a mass conversion took place. However, there were probably some Christians already in Kent before Augustine arrived, remnants of the Christians who lived in Britain in the later Roman Empire.

Further missionaries were sent from Rome in 601. They brought a pallium for Augustine and a present of sacred vessels, vestments, relics, and books. The pallium was the symbol of metropolitan status, and signified that Augustine was now an archbishop unambiguously associated with the Holy See. Along with the pallium, a letter from Gregory directed the new archbishop to consecrate 12 suffragan bishops as soon as possible and to send a bishop to York. Gregory’s plan was that there would be two metropolitans, one at York and one at London, with 12 suffragan bishops under each archbishop. As part of this plan, Augustine was expected to transfer his archiepiscopal see to London from Canterbury but the move from Canterbury to London never happened. No contemporary sources give the reason, but it was probably because London was not part of Æthelberht’s domains. Instead, London was part of the kingdom of Essex, ruled by Æthelberht’s nephew Saebert of Essex, who converted to Christianity in 604.

Augustine failed to extend his authority to the Christians in Wales and Dumnonia to the west. Gregory had decreed that these Christians should submit to Augustine and that their bishops should obey him, apparently believing that more of the Roman governmental and ecclesiastical organization survived in Britain than was actually the case. According to Bede, the Britons in these regions viewed Augustine with uncertainty, and their suspicion was compounded by a diplomatic misjudgement on Augustine’s part. In 603, Augustine and Æthelberht summoned the British bishops to a meeting south of the Severn. These guests retired early to confer with their people, who, according to Bede, advised them to judge Augustine based upon the respect he displayed at their next meeting. When Augustine failed to rise from his seat on the entrance of the British bishops, they refused to recognize him as their archbishop. There were also, however, deep differences between Augustine and the British church that perhaps played a more significant role in preventing an agreement. At issue were the tonsure, the observance of Easter, and practical and deep-rooted differences in approach to asceticism, missionary endeavors, and how the church itself was organized. There were political dimensions involved, as Augustine’s efforts were sponsored by the Kentish king, and at this period the Wessex and Mercian kingdoms were expanding to the west, into areas held by the Britons.

Site of the tomb of Saint Augustine, founder and first abbot of the abbey later dedicated to him.

Before his death, Augustine consecrated Laurence of Canterbury as his successor to the archbishopric, probably to ensure an orderly transfer of office. Although at the time of Augustine’s death the mission barely extended beyond Kent, his undertaking introduced a more active missionary style into the British Isles. Despite the earlier presence of Christians in Ireland and Wales, no efforts had been made to try to convert the Anglo-Saxon invaders. Augustine by converting them eventually became the decisive influence on the development of Christianity in the British Isles.

I have chosen Kentish huffkins for today’s recipe, not because they are especially ancient or Anglo-Saxon, but because they are a distinctively regional specialty and rather hard to come by these days because they cannot easily be produced commercially. They are rather rich bread rolls, noted for the indentation in the middle. They can be eaten plain, or more commonly these days, with the middle hole filled with either something savory, such as bacon, or sweet, such as pitted cherries (for which Kent is well known).

Kentish Huffkins

Ingredients

500g strong bread flour
5g salt
50g vegetable shortening
12g fresh yeast
5g sugar
200ml milk
200ml water

Instructions

Sieve the flour into a warm bowl. Rub the vegetable shortening into the flour and add the salt and the sugar. Leave in a warm place for a few minutes.

Heat the milk and water in a small pan until just tepid, then crumble in the fresh yeast and stir until the yeast and liquids are all thoroughly blended. Add the yeast and liquids to the dry ingredients and combine to form a dough.

Turn the dough on to a floured surface and knead for about 20 minutes until it is smooth.

Return the dough to the bowl, cover, and leave in a warm place for about 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Punch down the dough and divide it into 12 pieces. Roll each piece into a round ball and place them on a greased and floured baking sheet making sure to leave enough space between the balls for expansion. Press your thumb firmly into the center of each roll to form a hole. Leave in a warm place to rise for 20 minutes.

Set oven to 425ºF

Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Dec 252016
 

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It’s Christmas Day – of course. This year let me add my voice to the chorus of nonsense about the day. Maybe mine won’t be quite as stupid and ill informed as most. One can hope. My central theme is that Christmas is a CHRISTIAN feast – not pagan, Roman, druidic, or whatever. It is purely Christian at heart. Certainly it has accrued a mountain of stuff from other midwinter celebrations, but that does not alter its core idea.

Let’s begin with the date because exploring that path uncovers a multitude. There is no evidence that a celebration of Jesus’ birth existed on the Christian calendar before the 4th century. There was a great deal of debate about possible dates and also a certain amount of skepticism about the wisdom of celebrating a birth in general. In the 3rd century, the date of birth of Jesus was the subject of both great interest and great uncertainly. Around 200 Clement of Alexandria wrote:

There are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day; and they say that it took place in the 28th year of Augustus, and in the 25th day of [the Egyptian month] Pachon [May 20] … And treating of His Passion, with very great accuracy, some say that it took place in the 16th year of Tiberius, on the 25th of Phamenoth [March 21]; and others on the 25th of Pharmuthi [April 21] and others say that on the 19th of Pharmuthi [April 15] the Savior suffered. Further, others say that He was born on the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi [April 20 or 21].

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Other contemporary writers argued for May 20, April 18 or 19, March 25, January 2, November 17, and November 20 as possibilities.  Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430) argued for a winter solstice date which by his time had found some favor within the church:

Hence it is that He was born on the day which is the shortest in our earthly reckoning and from which subsequent days begin to increase in length. He, therefore, who bent low and lifted us up chose the shortest day, yet the one whence light begins to increase.

Early Christian writers show no knowledge of Christmas. Irenaeus (died c. 202) and Tertullian (c. 155 – c. 240) omit it from their lists of feasts, and in 245 Origen, commenting on Leviticus, says that Scripture talks about sinners celebrating their birthdays – such as Pharaoh, who then had his chief baker hanged (Genesis 40:20–22), and Herod, who then had John the Baptist beheaded (Mark 6:21–27) – and talks of  saints cursing the day of their birth – such as Jeremiah  (Jeremiah 20:14–15) and Job (Job 3:1–16).

The earliest known mention of Christmas as (possibly) being celebrated on the 25th of December is recorded in a 4th-century manuscript compiled in Rome. This manuscript is believed to record a celebration that occurred in 336. It was prepared privately for Filocalus, a Roman aristocrat, in 354. The reference in question states, “VIII kal. ian. natus Christus in Betleem Iudeæ”. This reference is in a section of the manuscript that was copied from earlier source material. It’s taken as a kind of confirmation that Christmas was celebrated on that date but the reference is too scant to be sure.

In the Early Middle Ages, Christmas Day was overshadowed by Epiphany, which in western Christianity focused on the visit of the magi. But the medieval calendar was dominated by Christmas-related holidays. The forty days before Christmas became the “forty days of St. Martin” (which began on November 11, the feast of St. Martin of Tours). The prominence of Christmas Day increased gradually after Charlemagne was crowned Emperor on Christmas Day in 800. King Edmund the Martyr was anointed on Christmas in 855 and King William I of England was crowned on Christmas Day 1066.

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In the High Middle Ages, the holiday had become so prominent that chroniclers routinely noted where various magnates celebrated Christmas. King Richard II of England hosted a Christmas feast in 1377 at which twenty-eight oxen and three hundred sheep were eaten. Caroling also appears in the records of this time. The first records is of a group of dancers who sang. The group was composed of a lead singer and a ring of dancers who provided the chorus.

Throughout the Middle Ages across Europe various aspects of non-Christian midwinter celebrations got added into the mix: holly, ivy, mistletoe along with feasting, drinking, gambling, dancing, and sporting, along with elaborate masques, pageants, and plays.

Following the Protestant Reformation, many of the new denominations, including the Anglican Church and Lutheran Church, continued to celebrate Christmas. Martin Luther helped turn Christmas festivities into something specifically German which then spread to the rest of Europe and North America. The Dutch Reformed Church also celebrated Christmas as one of the principal evangelical feasts. However, in 17th century England the Puritans strongly condemned the celebration of Christmas, considering it a Catholic invention and the “trappings of popery” or the “rags of the Beast.” The calendar reform became a major point of tension between the Anglican party and the Puritan party.” King Charles I of England directed his noblemen and gentry to return to their landed estates in midwinter to keep up their old-style Christmas generosity, but following the Parliamentarian victory over Charles I in the English Civil War, England’s Puritan rulers banned Christmas in 1647.

Protests followed as pro-Christmas rioting broke out in several cities and for weeks Canterbury was controlled by the rioters, who decorated doorways with holly and shouted royalist slogans. The Vindication of Christmas (London, 1652), argued against the Puritans, and makes note of Old English Christmas traditions, dinner, roast apples on the fire, card playing, dances with plough-boys, old Father Christmas and carol singing.

The Restoration of King Charles II in 1660 ended the ban, but many Calvinist clergymen still disapproved of Christmas celebration. As such, in Scotland, the Presbyterian Church of Scotland discouraged the observance of Christmas, and though James VI commanded its celebration in 1618, attendance at church was scant. The Parliament of Scotland officially abolished the observance of Christmas in 1640, claiming that the church had been “purged of all superstitious observation of days”. It was not until 1958 that Christmas again became a Scottish public holiday.

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In Colonial North America, the Pilgrims of New England shared radical Protestant disapproval of Christmas. The Plymouth Pilgrims put their loathing for the day into practice in 1620 when they spent their first Christmas Day in the New World working – thus demonstrating their complete contempt for the day. Non-Puritans in New England, however, deplored the loss of the holidays enjoyed by the laboring classes in England. Christmas observance was outlawed in Boston in 1659. The ban by the Puritans was revoked in 1681 by English governor Edmund Andros, however it was not until the mid-19th  century that celebrating Christmas became fashionable in the Boston region. I mention all of this by way of pointing out that the contemporary (false) claim by evangelicals and the right wing in the US that there is a War on Christmas while not remotely the case nowadays was certainly true in the past – and the perpetrators were their own ancestors.

As I have been at pains to point out in this blog as well as in my professional writing in general, the supposed “origins” of customs are a complete red herring, but in the case of Christmas there is no question that it started as a Christian celebration. The fact that it accrued bits and pieces from Saturnalia, yule, etc. is neither here nor there. Christmas did not originate in these other customs. Furthermore, it is an evolving and diverse festival.

Christmas dinner has always been very important to me and in previous posts I’ve talked about mincemeat, pudding, roast goose etc. These past few years I’ve been alone without an oven, so I’ve had to be creative. Here’s a little gallery from those times.

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Now I have an oven, so I’m roasting a duck this year for the main meal. Same rules apply as always – roast as hot as the oven will go. It makes a lot of smoke but the meat is juicy and the skin crisp.

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May 042016
 

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Today is one of several days honoring Saint Monica (331 – 387), also known as Monica of Hippo, an early Christian saint and the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo. She is remembered and honored in most Christian denominations, although on different feast days, for her Christian virtues, particularly the suffering caused by her husband’s adultery, and her prayerful life dedicated to the reformation of her son, who wrote extensively of her pious acts and his life with her in his Confessions. Popular Christian legend tells of Saint Monica weeping every night for her son Augustine.

Most of what we know about Monica comes directly from Augustine, which is far better information than is obtained from contemporary martyrologies, but personal information is, nonetheless, sketchy and conjectural. It is, for example, assumed that she was born in Tagaste (present-day Souk Ahras, Algeria). Her name is a Berber name, not popular in Europe until after her death, so on that basis alone she is conjectured to have been Berber. She was married early in life to Patricius, a Roman pagan, who held an official position in Tagaste. Patricius had a violent temper and appears to have been generally dissolute. Monica’s alms, deeds, and prayer habits annoyed Patricius, but it is said that he always held her in respect. Monica had three children who survived infancy: sons Augustine and Navigius and daughter Perpetua. She was unable to gain approval to baptize them, and grieved heavily when Augustine fell ill. In her distress she asked Patricius to allow Augustine to be baptized. He agreed, then withdrew this consent when the boy recovered. Monica’s joy and relief at Augustine’s recovery turned to anxiety as he misspent his renewed life being wayward and, as he himself tells us, lazy. He was finally sent to school at Madauros. He was 17 and studying rhetoric in Carthage when Patricius died.

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Augustine become a Manichaean (strong rival to Christianity) in Carthage. When he returned home he shared his views regarding Manichaeism, Monica drove him away. However, she is said to have experienced a vision that convinced her to reconcile with him. At this time she visited an unnamed bishop who consoled her with the now famous words, “the child of those tears shall never perish.” Monica followed her son to Rome, where he had gone secretly. When she arrived he had already gone to Milan and she followed him there. Here she found Ambrose and through him she ultimately saw Augustine convert to Christianity after 17 years of resistance.

In Confessions, Augustine wrote of a peculiar practice of his mother in which she “brought to certain oratories, erected in the memory of the saints, offerings of porridge, bread, water and wine.” When she moved to Milan, the bishop Ambrose forbade her to use the offering of wine, since “it might be an occasion of gluttony for those who were already given to drink”. So, Augustine wrote of her:

In place of a basket filled with fruits of the earth, she had learned to bring to the oratories of the martyrs a heart full of purer petitions, and to give all that she could to the poor – so that the communion of the Lord’s body might be rightly celebrated in those places where, after the example of his passion, the martyrs had been sacrificed and crowned.

Mother and son spent 6 months together at Rus Cassiciacum (present-day Cassago Brianza) after which Augustine was baptized in the church of St. John the Baptist in Milan. Africa claimed them, however, and they set out on their journey, stopping at Civitavecchia and at Ostia. Monica died on the journey and Augustine’s grief inspired large sections of his Confessions.

Saint Monica was buried at Ostia, and at first seems to have been almost forgotten, though her body was removed during the 6th century to a hidden crypt in the church of Santa Aurea in Ostia. Monica was buried near the tomb of St. Aurea of Ostia, but was later transferred to the Basilica of Sant’Agostino, Rome.

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Anicius Auchenius Bassus wrote Monica’s funerary epitaph, which survived in ancient manuscripts. The actual stone on which it was written was rediscovered in the summer of 1945 in the church of Santa Aurea. The fragment was discovered after two boys were digging a hole to plant a football post in the courtyard beside Santa Aurea.

The translation reads:

Here the most virtuous mother of a young man set her ashes, a second light to your merits, Augustine. As a priest, serving the heavenly laws of peace, you teach the people entrusted to you with your character. A glory greater than the praise of your accomplishments crowns you both – Mother of the Virtues, more fortunate because of her offspring.

It was not until the 13th century, however, that the cult of St. Monica began to spread and a feast in her honor was kept on 4th May. In 1430 Pope Martin V ordered the relics to be brought to Rome. Many miracles are reported to have occurred on the way, and the cult of St. Monica was definitively established. Later the archbishop of Rouen, Guillaume d’Estouteville, built a church in Rome in honor of St. Augustine, the Basilica di Sant’Agostino, and deposited the relics of St. Monica in a chapel to the left of the high altar. The Office of St. Monica, however, does not seem to have found a place in the Roman Breviary before the 16th century.

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The city of Santa Monica, California, is named after Monica. A legend says that in the 18th century Father Juan Crespí named a local dripping spring Las Lagrimas de Santa Monica (“Saint Monica’s Tears”) (today known as the Serra Springs) that was reminiscent of the tears that Saint Monica shed over her son’s early impiety. As recorded in his diary, however, Crespí actually named the place San Gregorio. What is known for certain is that by the 1820s, the name Santa Monica was in use and its first official mention occurred in 1827 in the form of a grazing permit. There is a statue of Monica in Santa Monica’s Palisades Park by sculptor Eugene Morahan, completed in 1934.

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Couscous is a fitting dish for Saint Monica both because it is a Berber/Algerian staple, probably from antiquity, and because it is the kind of food Monica could well have given to the poor. I discussed the general preparation of couscous here:

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/jean-dubuffet/

Properly cooked couscous is light and fluffy, not gummy or gritty. Traditionally, North Africans use a food steamer (called a Taseksut in Berber, a كِسْكَاس kiskas in Arabic or a couscoussier in French). The base is a tall metal pot shaped rather like an oil jar in which the meat and vegetables are cooked as a stew. On top of the base, a steamer sits where the couscous is cooked, absorbing the flavors from the stew. The lid to the steamer has holes around its edge so steam can escape. It is also possible to use a pot with a steamer insert. If the holes are too big, the steamer can be lined with damp cheesecloth. There is little archaeological evidence of early diets including couscous, possibly because the original couscoussier was made from organic materials that could not survive extended exposure to the elements. I suggest a simple dish of couscous and vegetables seasoned with cumin and garlic to taste. My preference is to cook the couscous separately from the vegetables in a steamer, but you can be traditional and boil them with spices in the base of your steamer. I usually sauté the spices gently over medium heat in a heavy skillet in a little extra virgin olive oil, then add the vegetables to cook through. Nowadays Algerians use whatever vegetables are to hand, including zucchini and tomatoes, but before the European exploration of the Americas vegetables would have been more limited – carrots, peas, broccoli, etc.

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The couscous that is sold in most Western supermarkets has been pre-steamed and dried. It is typically prepared by adding 1.5 measures of boiling water or stock to each measure of couscous then leaving covered tightly for about 5 minutes. Pre-steamed couscous takes less time to prepare than regular couscous, or dried pasta, beans, or grains.

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In Algeria and Morocco it is also served, sometimes at the end of a meal, or just by itself, as a delicacy called “seffa”. The couscous is usually steamed several times until it is very fluffy and pale in color. It is then sprinkled with almonds, cinnamon, and sugar. Traditionally, this dessert is served with milk perfumed with orange flower water, or it can be served plain with buttermilk in a bowl as a cold light soup for supper.

Aug 282013
 

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Today is the saint’s day of Augustine of Hippo (354-430), Christian theologian whose writings were influential in the development of Western Christianity and Western philosophy. He was bishop of Hippo Regius (present-day Annaba, Algeria) in the Roman province of Africa. He was a prolific writer, his most widely read works being City of God and Confessions.  He was a great scholar, but I am ambivalent about some of  his teachings inasmuch as he gave us the concepts of “original sin” and “just war.” I’m not thrilled about his neo-Platonism either. On the other hand he is the patron saint of brewers which makes up for a lot. When the Western Roman Empire began to disintegrate, and in the face of growing Christian sects that challenged Catholic orthodoxy, Augustine developed the concept of the Catholic Church as a spiritual City of God, distinct from the material Earthly City. His thoughts profoundly influenced the medieval worldview.

Augustine was born in 354 in the municipium of Thagaste (now Souk Ahras, Algeria) in Roman Africa. It is believed that his mother was a Berber. At the age of 11, he was sent to school at Madaurus (now M’Daourouch), a small Numidian city about 19 miles south of Thagaste. There he became familiar with Latin literature, as well as Roman religious beliefs and practices. While at home in 369 and 370, he read Cicero’s dialogue Hortensius (now lost), which he described as leaving a lasting impression on him and sparking his interest in philosophy.

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At age 17, through the generosity of fellow citizen, Romanianus, Augustine went to Carthage to continue his education in rhetoric. As a youth Augustine lived a hedonistic lifestyle for a time, associating with young men who boasted of their sexual exploits with women and urged the inexperienced boys, like Augustine, to seek out experiences or to make up stories about experiences in order to gain acceptance and avoid ridicule. It was during this period that he uttered his famous prayer, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” Augustine had two lengthy affairs, one of which produced a son. He was also briefly betrothed to an eleven year old girl of high birth, a union which his mother arranged, but broke it off when he began moving towards a more spiritual life.

In the summer of 386, Augustine reached a turning point in his life as he began absorbing Christian teaching.  At the time he held a very prestigious position as a teacher of rhetoric in Milan. He was becoming influenced more and more by Christian friends  and especially by Ambrose, bishop of Milan.  One day while in contemplation in a garden he heard a childlike voice saying “tolle, lege” (“pick [it] up, read”). He took this to mean that he should pick up the Bible and read it, which he did. He opened randomly to Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and read (13:13-14):

“Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.”

He writes in Confessions that this was a transformative moment.  He became a catechumen and was baptized by Ambrose.

Augustine and his mother

Augustine and his mother

After a period in Rome, during which his mother died, Augustine returned to Thagaste in Africa, settled his property, established his own monastic community, and began to live a contemplative life as a lay “servant of God.” In 390 his son, who was apparently a gifted student, died. Grief made Augustine restless, and he visited Hippo to see about setting up another monastery there. Catholic Christians were in the minority in north Africa at that time, and were persecuted by other Christian sects, such as the Donatists and Manichaeans. Bishop Valerius asked him to accept ordination to help the embattled minority, and from then on he remained in Hippo until his death, preaching and writing against heresy. The Donatists and Manichaeans were both dualists, believing that the material world was essentially evil, and that only the spiritual realm was good – hence separating themselves from the world.  Augustine argued that the world was what it was, good and bad, and it was up to the church to live in the world and make it better.

In 395 Augustine was ordained coadjutor (assistant) bishop of Hippo. In less than two years he would be made bishop. During his episcopate, he drove the Donatists and other heretical Christian rivals out of Hippo. He led the community with a paternal hand, adjudicating disputes, intervening for prisoners to save them from torture and execution, advocating for the poor, buying freedom for badly treated slaves, and charging religious women with the care of abandoned and orphaned children. He preached abundantly and wrote extensively. By 410 Augustine had written thirty-three books.

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The last two decades of Augustine’s life were plagued with violence as Visigoths and Vandals began their conquest of the Roman Empire.  In 430 Vandals invaded the provinces around Hippo, burning and pillaging as they went. Communities fled to Hippo which was fortified.  Vandals laid siege to the city for several months. Augustine died of a fever, perhaps exacerbated by hunger caused by the siege, on 28 August 430.  The Vandals eventually burned most of the city but left the cathedral and Augustine’s library intact.  In it were all of his books, letters, notes, and sermons.  A priceless legacy. Some parts of the old city survive today.

Ancient Hippo today

Ancient Hippo today

It is impossible for me to summarize Augustine’s thought and his influence down to the present day.  Let me just pick up on a couple of themes, and you can search wider if you care to.  It’s a lot easier to write these posts when I don’t know what I am talking about! For me his greatest teaching has to be that the notion of a “literal” reading of the Bible is not a simple matter. He argued that you could read the Bible in many ways. You could adhere to a strict reading of the words (what is now called “literalism”), or you could see the stories as allegories (without worrying about the surface truth), and therefore see in them a spiritual truth.  Augustine spoke of the latter as just as literal as the former.  So, for example, in “The Literal Interpretation of Genesis” Augustine took the view that everything in the universe was created simultaneously by God, and not in seven calendar days as a surface reading of Genesis would require. He argued that the seven-day structure of creation presented in Genesis represents a logical framework, rather than the passage of time in a physical way; it has a spiritual, rather than physical, meaning.

His teachings on the sacraments of baptism and communion are very complicated, but one essential element I want to point out is that Augustine believed they were not mere mechanical rituals that worked because you performed them.   Their efficacy lay in the spiritual dimension you bring to them.  In this, as well as his Biblical teachings, he sounds an awful lot like a modern Protestant, and is often cited by Protestant theologians.

Hippo is now the city of Annaba in Algeria.  Algerian cooking is a variant of cuisines found throughout north Africa.  I have chosen a recipe for a chicken soup, shorba baidha, finished with an egg and lemon mixture that resembles soups found throughout the Mediterranean, but with an Algerian savor.

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Shorba Baidha

Ingredients:

6 chicken thighs
1 medium onion, peeled and finely diced
7 oz (200 g) cooked chick peas (garbanzos)
10 ½ cups (2 ½ li) chicken stock
1 cinnamon stick
½  lemon
1 large egg yolk, beaten
¼ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 ½ tbsps basmati rice
salt  and pepper to taste

Instructions:

Sauté the onion in the olive oil in a heavy pot over medium-high heat until translucent.

Add the chicken and the cinnamon stick and sauté until the chicken is golden all over.

Add the stock plus salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes on medium heat.

Strip the chicken from the bone, tear it into bite-sized pieces, and return it to the pot.

Add the chickpeas and rice to the pot and simmer for 20 minutes covered, or until the rice is cooked.

Add more stock if the soup is too thick.

Squeeze the juice of the lemon into the egg yolk in a small jug or cup.  Add several tablespoons of the soup to the egg/lemon mixture and whisk well.  With the soup on a rolling boil add the egg mix in a steady stream whisking constantly. Cook for one more minute and serve immediately garnished with parsley.

Serves 6