Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism


``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D


Oration of Constantine to the Assembly of the Saints
By Eusebius (b. ca. A.D. 260)


Chapter XVIII

Of the Erythraean Sibyl, who pointed in a Prophetic Acrostic at our Lord and his Passion. The Acrostic is "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour, Cross."

My desire, however, is to derive even from foreign sources a testimony to the Divine nature of Christ. For on such testimony it is evident that even those who blaspheme his name must acknowledge that he is God, and the Son of God if indeed they will accredit the words of those whose sentiments coincided with their own. The Erythraean Sibyl, then, who herself assures us that she lived in the sixth generation after the flood, was a priestess of Apollo, who wore the sacred fillet in imitation of the God she served, who guarded also the tripod encompassed with the serpent's folds, and returned prophetic answers to those who approached her shrine; having been devoted by the folly of her parents to this service, a service productive of nothing good or noble, but only of indecent fury, such as we find recorded in the case of Daphne. On one occasion, however, having rushed into the sanctuary of her vain superstition, she became really filled with inspiration from above, and declared in prophetic verses the future purposes of God; plainly indicating the advent of Jesus by the initial letters of these verses, forming an acrostic in these words: JESUS CHRIST, SON OF GOD, SAVIOUR, CROSS. The verses themselves are as follows:

Judgment! Earth's oozing pores shall mark the day;
Earth's heavenly king his glories shall display:
Sovereign of all, exalted on his throne,
Unnumbered multitudes their God shall own;
Shall sea their Judge, with mingled joy and fear,
Crowned with his saints, in human form appear.
How vain, while desolate earth's glories lie,
Riches, and pomp, and man's idolatry!
In that dread hour, when Nature's fiery doom
Startles the slumb'ring tenants of the tomb,
Trembling all flesh shall stand; each secret wile,
Sins long forgotten, thoughts of guilt and guile,
Open beneath God's searching light shall lie:
No refuge then, but hopeless agony.
O'er heaven's expanse shall gathering shades of night
From earth, sun, stars, and moon, withdraw their light;
God's arm shall crush each mountain's towering pride;
On ocean's plain no more shall navies ride.
Dried at the source, no river's rushing sound
Shall soothe, no fountain slake the parched ground.
Around, afar, shall roll the trumpet's blast,
Voice of wrath long delayed, revealed at last.
In speechless awe, while earth's foundations groan,
On judgment's seat earth's kings their God shall own.
Uplifted then, in majesty divine,
Radiant with light, behold Salvation's Sign!
Cross of that Lord, who, once for sinners given,
Reviled by man, now owned by earth and heaven,
O'er every land extends his iron sway.
Such is the name these mystic lines display;
Saviour, eternal king, who bears our sins away.

It is evident that the virgin uttered these verses under the influence of Divine inspiration. And I cannot but esteem her blessed, whom the Saviour thus selected to unfold his gracious purpose towards us.

 
Chapter XIX

That this Prophecy respecting our Saviour was not the Fiction of any Member of the Christian Church, but the Testimony of the Erythraean Sibyl, whose Books were translated into Latin by Cicero before the coming of Christ. Also that Virgil makes mention of the same, and of the Birth of the Virgin's Child: though he spoke obscurely of this Mystery from Fear of the Ruling Powers.

Many, however, who admit that the Erythraean Sibyl was really a prophetess, yet refuse to credit this prediction, and imagine that some one professing our faith, and not unacquainted with the poetic art, was the composer of these verses. They hold, in short, that they are a forgery, and alleged to be the prophecies of the Sibyl on the ground of their containing useful moral sentiments, tending to restrain licentiousness, and to lead man to a life of sobriety and decorum. Truth, however, in this case is evident, since the diligence of our countrymen has made a careful computation of the times; so that there is no room to suspect that this poem was composed after the advent and condemnation of Christ, or that the general report is false, that the verses were a prediction of the Sibyl in an early age. For it is allowed that Cicero was acquainted with this poem, which he translated into the Latin tongue, and incorporated with his own works. This writer was put to death during the ascendancy of Antony, who in his turn was conquered by Augustus, whose reign lasted fifty-six years. Tiberius succeeded, in whose age it was that the Saviour's advent enlightened the world, the mystery of our most holy religion began to prevail, and as it were a new race of men commenced: of which, I suppose, the prince of Latin poets thus speaks:

Behold, a new, a heaven-born race appears.

And again, in another passage of the Bucolics:

Sicilian Muses, sound a loftier strain.

What can be clearer than this? For he adds,

The voice of Cuma's oracle is heard again.

Evidently referring to the Cumaean Sibyl. Nor was even this enough: the poet goes further, as if irresistibly impelled to bear his testimony. What then does he say?

Behold! the circling years new blessings bring:
The virgin comes, with her the long-desired king.

Who, then, is the virgin who was to come? Is it not she who was filled with, and with child of the Holy Spirit? And why is it impossible that she who was with child of the Holy Spirit should be, and ever continue to be a virgin? This king, too, will return, and by his coming lighten the sorrows of the world. The poet adds,

Thou, chaste Lucina, greet the new-born child,
Beneath whose reign the iron offspring ends,
A golden progeny from heaven descends;
His kingdom banished virtue shall restore,
And crime shall threat the guilty world no more.

We perceive that these words are spoken plainly and at the same time darkly, by way of allegory. Those who search deeply for the import of the words, are able to discern the Divinity of Christ. But lest any of the powerful in the imperial city might be able to accuse the poet of writing anything contrary to the laws of the country, and subverting the religious sentiments which had prevailed from ancient times, he intentionally obscures the truth. For he was acquainted, as I believe, with that blessed mystery which gave to our Lord the name of Saviour: but, that he might avoid the severity of cruel men, he drew the thoughts of his hearers to objects with which they were familiar, saying that altars must be erected, temples raised, and sacrifices offered to the new-born child. His concluding words also are adapted to the sentiments of those who were accustomed to such a creed; for he says:

 
Chatper XX

A Farther Quotation from Virgilius Maro respecting Christ, with its Interpretation, showing that the Mystery was indicated therein darkly, as might be expected from a Poet.

A life immortal he shall lead, and be
By heroes seen, himself shall heroes see;
evidently meaning the righteous.
The jarring nations he in peace shall bind,
And with paternal virtues rule mankind.
Unbidden earth her earliest fruits shall bring,
And fragrant herbs, to greet her infant king.

Well indeed was this admirably wise and accomplished man acquainted with the cruel character of the times. He proceeds:

The goats, uncall'd, full udders home shall bear;
The lowing herds no more fierce lions fear.

Truly said: for faith will not stand in awe of the mighty in the imperial palace.

His cradle shall with rising flowers be crown'd:
The serpent's brood shall die; the sacred ground
Shall weeds and poisonous plants refuse to bear;
Each common bush th' Assyrian rose shall wear.

Nothing could be said more true or more consistent with the Saviour's excellency than this. For the power of the Divine Spirit presents the very cradle of God, like fragrant flowers, to the new-born race. The serpent, too, and the venom of that serpent, perishes, who originally beguiled our first parents, and drew their thoughts from their native innocence to the enjoyment of pleasures, that they might experience that threatened death. For before the Saviour's advent, the serpent's power was shown in subverting the souls of those who were sustained by no well-grounded hope, and ignorant of that immortality which awaits the righteous. But after that he had suffered, and was separated for a season from the body which he had assumed, the power of the resurrection was revealed to man through the communication of the Holy Spirit: and whatever stain of human guilt might yet remain was removed by the washing of sacred lustrations.

Then indeed could the Saviour bid his followers be of good cheer, and, remembering his adorable and glorious resurrection, expect the like for themselves. Truly, then, the poisonous race may be said to be extinct. Death himself is extinct, and the truth of the resurrection sealed. Again, the Assyrian race is gone, which first led the way to faith in God. But when he speaks of the growth of amomum every where, he alludes to the multitude of the true worshipers of God. For it is as though a multitude of branches, crowned with fragrant flowers, and fitly watered, sprung from the self-same root. Most justly said, Maro, thou wisest of poets! and with this all that follows is consistent.

But when heroic worth his youth shall hear,
And learn his father's virtues to revere.

By the praises of heroes, he indicates the works of righteous men: by the virtues of his Father he speaks of the creation and everlasting structure of the world: and, it may be, of those laws by which God's beloved Church is guided, and ordered in a course of righteousness and virtue. Admirable, again, is the advance to higher things of that state of life which is intermediate, as it were, between good and evil, and which seldom admits a sudden change:

Unlabored harvests shall the fields adorn,

that is, the fruit of the Divine law springs up for the service of men.

And clustered gropes shall blush on every thorn.

Far otherwise has it been during the corrupt and lawless period of human life.

The knotted oaks shall showers of honey weep.

He here describes the folly and obduracy of the men of that age; and perhaps he also intimates that they who suffer hardships in the cause of God, shall reap sweet fruits of their own endurance.

Yet, of old fraud some footsteps shall remain;
The merchant still shall plough the deep for gain:
Great cities shall with walls be compassed round,
And sharpened shares shall vex the fruitful ground:
Another Tiphys shall new seas explore;
Another Argo land the chiefs upon the Iberian shore;
Another Helen other wars create,
And great Achilles urge the Trojan fate.

Well said, wisest of bards! Thou hast carried the license of a poet precisely to the proper point. For it was not thy purpose to assume the functions of a prophet, to which thou hadst no claim. I suppose also he was restrained by a sense of the danger which threatened one who should assail the credit of ancient religious practice. Cautiously, therefore, and securely, as far as possible, he presents the truth to those who have faculties to understand it; and while he denounces the munitions and conflicts of war (which indeed are still to be found in the course of human life), he describes our Saviour as proceeding to the war against Troy, understanding by Troy the world itself. And surely he did maintain the struggle against the opposing powers of evil, sent on that mission both by the designs of his own providence and the commandment of his Almighty Father. How, then, does the poet proceed?

But when to ripen'd manhood he shall grow,

that is, when, having arrived at the age of manhood, he shall utterly remove the evils which encompass the path of human life, and tranquilize the world by the blessings of peace

The greedy sailor shall the seas forego;
No keel shall cut the waves for foreign ware,
For every soil shall every product bear.
The laboring hind his oxen shall disjoin;
But the luxurious father of the fold,
With native purple, and unborrow'd gold,
Beneath his pompous fleece shall proudly sweat;
And under Tyrian robes the lamb shall bleat.
Mature in years, to ready honors move,
O of celestial seed, O foster son of Jove!
See, laboring nature calls thee to sustain
The nodding flame of heaven, and earth, and main!
See to their base restored earth seas, and air;
And joyful ages, from behind, in crowing ranks appear.
To ring thy praise, would heaven my breath prolong.
Infusing spirits worthy such a song,
Not Thracian Orpheus should transcend my lays,
Nor Linus, crown'd with never-fading bays;
Though each his heavenly parent should inspire;
The Muse instruct the voice, and Phoebus tune the lyre.
Should Pan contend in verse, and thou my theme,
Arcadian judges should their God condemn.

Behold (says he) how the mighty world and the elements together manifest their joy.

 
Chapter XXI

That these Things cannot have been spoken of a Mere Man: and that Unbelievers, owing to their Ignorance of Religion, know not even the Origin of their own Existence.

It may be some will foolishly suppose that these words were spoken of the birth of a mere ordinary mortal. But if this were all, what reason could there be that the earth should need neither seed nor plough, that the vine should require no pruning-hook, or other means of culture? How can we suppose these things to be spoken of a mere mortal's birth? For nature is the minister of the Divine will not an instrument obedient to the command of man. Indeed, the very joy of the elements indicates the advent of God, not the conception of a human being. The prayer, too, of the poet that his life might be prolonged is a proof of the Divinity of him whom he invoked; for we desire life and preservation from God, and not from man. Indeed, the Erythraean Sibyl thus appeals to God: "Why, O Lord, dost thou compel me still to foretell the future, and not rather remove me from this earth to await the blessed day of thy coming?" And Maro adds to what he had said before:

Begin, sweet boy! with smiles thy mother know,
Who ten long months did with thy burden go.
No mortal parents smiled upon thy birth:
No nuptial joy thou know'st, no feast of earth.

How could his parents have smiled on him? For his Father is God, who is a Power without sensible quality, existing, not in any definite shape, but as comprehending other beings, and not, therefore, in a human body. And who knows not that the Holy Spirit has no participation in the nuptial union? For what desire can exist in the disposition of that good which all things rise desire? What fellowship, in short, can wisdom hold with pleasure? But let these arguments be left to those who ascribe to him a human origin, and who care not to purify themselves from all evil in word as well as deed. On thee, Piety, I call to aid my words, on thee who art the very law of purity, most desirable of all blessings, teacher of holiest hope, assured promise of immortality! Thee, Piety, and thee, Clemency, I adore. We who have obtained thine aid owe thee everlasting gratitude for thy healing power. But the multitudes whom their innate hatred of thyself deprives of thy succor, are equally estranged from God himself, and know not that the very cause of their life and being, and that of all the ungodly, is connected with the rightful worship of him who is Lord of all: for the world itself is his, and all that it contains.

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