from Friar Blog: Below is an English translation of the homily then Fr. Augustine DiNoia, O.P., preached to the members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on their patronal feast in 2004. The Mass celebrated by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Prefect of the Congregation.
Imagine the scene: A cold January day in 1566, one saint kneeling at the feet of another in the Sistine Chapel. St. Charles Boromeo begging Michele Ghislieri to accept election as the successor to Pope Pius IV. The normally strong and self-controlled Cardinal Alessandrino (as Ghislieri was known) had burst into tears when St. Charles commanded: “In the name of the Church, pronounce your acceptance, most Holy Father!” “I cannot! I am not worthy,” he kept repeating. At last, Cardinal Boromeo’s ear caught the barely audible words of acceptance, and the Dominican Cardinal Alessandrino became Pope Pius V.
Since arriving in Rome over a decade earlier, the saint had wanted nothing more than to return to the beloved Dominican Friars with whom he had spent his life. At the suggestion of Cardinal Carlo Carafa, Pope Julius III had brought him to Rome to become Commissary General of the Inquisition. When a few years later, Carafa became Pope Paul IV, and Fr. Michele implored the new pope to allow him to return to his convent so that he could “live and die as a Dominican,” Carafa responded by making him a bishop and then a cardinal, saying: “I will bind you with so strong a chain that, even after my death, you will never be free to return to your cloister.” It is no surprise that, as a cardinal and even as pope, Michele Ghislieri strove to be faithful to the Dominican vocation he had first embraced when he was twelve years old.
The young Michele had startled two Dominican Friars who were passing through Bosco (the town of his birth) by asking if he could become one of them. They were so impressed by his answers to their questions that, with the blessing of his parents, they allowed him to travel with them to the priory of Voghera in Lombardy where his vocation could be tested. From the start, the Friars loved the boy. They called him a treasure, for his progress in the spiritual life outstripped his rapid advance in his studies. As a novice in Vegevano, his fellow novices looked upon him as one already far advanced on the road to sanctity – silent, recollected, prudent, yet docile, humble, reverent towards his superiors, and jealously observant of the Dominican rule.
There is no time this morning to recount his activities in his long life as a Dominican, most of it spent in studies, teaching, preaching, and governance. Ordained a priest in Genoa at the age of twenty four, Father Michele was known by his brethren to be the first to kneel before the Blessed Sacrament in the morning, and the last to say farewell at night. As a young professor, he used to say to his students: “The most powerful aid we can bring to this study is the practice of earnest prayer. The more closely the mind is united to God, the richer the stores of light and wisdom that will follow its researches.” His brilliant defense of the faith during the Dominican provincial chapter at Parma in 1543 brought him to the attention of the College of Cardinals, and he was subsequently appointed to the difficult and thankless post of Inquisitor at Como. A few years later, he would be called to Rome to head the Inquisition, and here he remained for the rest of his life.
We cannot enter into the many achievements of his pontificate: his implementation of the reforms of the Council of Trent, especially in the liturgy; his promotion of devotion to the Rosary; and his successful efforts to mobilize the leaders of the nations against the threat of the Turks (of whom it was said that they feared the prayers of the pope more than they feared all the armies of Europe).
Although St. Pius was never able to return to his Dominican cloister, the legacy of St. Dominic remained with him in at least one important respect that is also significant for us and for our work in the Congregation: love of the truth and zeal for souls. His intellectual formation as a Dominican, combined with his long experience as a champion of the faith, gave him a profound awareness of the power of error to contribute to unhappiness and disorder in human life, and thus of the authentically pastoral necessity of proclaiming the full truth of the Catholic faith without compromise. In imitation of this great saint, we must pray for the love and the zeal that form the deepest wellspring for the proclamation of the doctrine of the faith.
The election of Cardinal Alessandrino had not been greeted with much enthusiasm by the people of Rome on that cold January day in 1566 because he was regarded as too severe. At the time, he had prayed: “God grant me the grace to act so that they may grieve more for my death than for my election.” Such was indeed the case when St. Pius V died peacefully in the early hours of the morning on the 1st of May 1572.
In your nature, eternal Godhead,
I shall come to know my nature.
And what is my nature, boundless love?
It is fire,
because you are nothing but a fire of love.
And you have given humankind
a share in this nature,
for by the fire of love
you created us.
And so with all other people
and every created thing;
you made them out of love.
O ungrateful people!
What nature has your God given you?
His very own nature!
Are you not ashamed to cut yourself off from such a noble thing
through the guilt of deadly sin?
O eternal Trinity, my sweet love!
give us light.
give us wisdom.
You, supreme strength,
Today, eternal God,
let our cloud be dissipated
so that we may perfectly know and follow your Truth
with a free and simple heart.
God, come to our assistance!
Lord, make haste to help us!
*Prayer XII Taken from The Prayers of Catherine of Siena. 2nd edition. Suzanne Noffke, OP, translator and editor.
(San Jose.: Authors Choice Press, 2001) (Roman numerals indicate the number of the prayer in
the critical edition of G. Cavallini).
Today, April 29, is the feast day of the great Dominican saint and Doctor of the Church, Catherine of Siena. Her amazing life and spirituality has been well documented–beginning during her lifetime . Catherine Benincasa was born in Siena on Palm Sunday, March 5, 1347, the 23rd of 25 children. She is the patroness of large families! At a very young age she began to show signs of her mystical spirituality. At the age of 5 she would recite a “Hail Mary” for each step she climbed up the staircase of her home, and at age 6 she had the first of many visions:
“So it happened that Catherine, being arrived at the age of six, went one day with her brother Stephen, who was a little older than herself, to the house of their sister Bonaventura, who was married to one Niccol, as has been mentioned above, in order to carry something or give some message from their mother Lapa. Their mother’s errand accomplished, while they were on the way back from their sister’s house to their own and were passing along a certain valley, called by the people Valle Piatta, the holy child, lifting her eyes, saw on the opposite side above the Church of the Preaching Friars a most beautiful room, adorned with regal magnificence, in which was seated, on an imperial throne, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, clothed in pontifical vestments, and wearing on His head a papal tiara; with Him were the princes of the Apostles, Peter and Paul, and the holy evangelist John. Astounded at such a sight, Catherine stood still, and with fixed and immovable look, gazed, full of love, on her Savior, who, appearing in so marvelous a manner, in order sweetly to gain her love to Himself, fixed on her the eyes of His Majesty, and, with a tender smile, lifted over her His right hand, and, making the sign of the Holy Cross in the manner of a bishop, left with her the gift of His eternal benediction. The grace of this gift was so efficacious, that Catherine, beside herself, and transformed into Him upon whom she gazed with such love, forgetting not only the road she was on, but also herself, although naturally a timid child, stood still for a space with lifted and immovable eyes in the public road, where men and beasts were continually passing, and would certainly have continued to stand there as long as the vision lasted, had she not been violently diverted by others. But while the Lord was working these marvels, the child Stephen, leaving her standing still, continued his way down hill, thinking that she was following, but, seeing her immovable in the distance and paying no heed to his calls, he returned and pulled her with his hands, saying: ‘What are you doing here? why do you not come?’ Then Catherine, as if waking from a heavy sleep, lowered her eyes and said: ‘Oh, if you had seen what I see, you would not distract me from so sweet a vision!’ and lifted her eyes again on high; but the vision had entirely disappeared, according to the will of Him who had granted it, and she, not being able to endure this without pain, began with tears to reproach herself for having turned her eyes to earth.” Such was the “call” of St. Catherine of Siena, and, to a mind intent on mystical significance, the appearance of Christ, in the semblance of His Vicar, may fitly appear to symbolize the great mission of her after-life to the Holy See.
As one writer put it, “Such was the ‘call’ of Saint Catherine of Siena … and the appearance of Christ, in the semblance of His Vicar [the pope], may fitly appear to symbolize the great mission of her later life to the Holy See”. For the pope was not in Rome but in Avignon, France, the so-called “Babylonian Captivity” of the papacy, where for political reasons the papal court had moved — and Catherine, years later, would attempt to persuade the pope to return to Rome, the See of Peter. Pope Paul VI remarked at a general audience (April 30, 1969):
We must always remember that it was she, Catherine, who convinced the young French Pope (he was forty) Gregory XI, weak in health and faint-hearted, to leave Avignon, whither the Apostolic See had moved with Pope Clement V, after the sudden death of Benedict XI, and to return in 1376 to Italy, still rent by bitter divisions, to Rome, though it was turbulent and in very bad conditions. And it was Catherine who, immediately after the death of Gregory XI, supported his successor Urban VI in the first critical events of the famous “Western schism”, which began with the election of the anti-pope Clement VII.
At age 16 she took the Dominican habit and after three years of visions she experienced the famous vision known as her “mystical marriage to Christ”. Catherine then dedicated herself to the poor, the sick and the conversation of sinners. In the summer of 1370 she received visions of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven and a Divine command to enter the public life of the world.
She began to dictate and write over 400 letters to popes, princes, religious and lay people alike, was consulted by the papal legates about the affairs of the Church, and inserted herself into the most contentious of political affairs of the day. She implored Pope Gregory XI to reform the notoriously corrupt clergy and the administration of the Papal States. Catherine was not afraid to write in the strongest of terms as this statement to three cardinals supporting the anti-pope: “what made you do this? You are flowers who shed no perfume, but stench that makes the whole world reek.” Through her influence, the pope left Avignon and returned to Rome.
On the fourth Sunday of Lent in 1375 she received the stigmata, that is, the wounds of Christ. In about 1378 Catherine composed her “Dialogue”, said to have been dictated while she was in ecstasy, a book of meditations and reflections on the Creed and teachings of the Church, and on the sinfulness of man and the mercy of God. Catherine died April 29, 1380 of a sudden and painful illness.
In 1970 Pope Paul VI proclaimed Saint Catherine of Siena a Doctor of the Church, a title given to certain ecclesiastical writers because of the benefit the whole Church has derived from their teaching and witness. She was the first woman to get such a distinction, followed by St. Theresa of Avila and St. Therese of Lisieux.
in meditating on the sufferings of Your Son
and in serving your Church,
Saint Catherine was filled with the fervor of Your love.
By her prayers, may we share in the mystery of Christ’s death
and rejoice in the revelation of His glory, for He lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. +Amen.
Traditional Holy Mass at the Patriarchal Basilica of St. Mary Major, Rome
Over these nine years, the Catholic presence in the world has grown from 1,045 million in 2000 to 1,166 million in 2008, an increase of 11.54 percent. Considering the statistics in detail, numbers in Africa grew by 33 percent, in Europe they remained generally stable (an increase of 1.17 percent), while in Asia they increased by 15.61 percent, in Oceania by 11.39 percent and in America by 10.93 percent. As a percentage of the total population, European Catholics represented 26.8 percent in 2000 and 24.31 percent in 2008. In America and Oceania they have remained stable, and increased slightly in Asia.
The number of bishops in the world went up from 4541 in 2000 to 5002 in 2008, an increase of 10.15 percent.
The number of priests also increased slightly over this nine-year period, passing from 405,178 in 2000 to 409,166 in 2008, an overall rise of 0.98 percent. In Africa and Asia their numbers increased (respectively, by 33.1 percent and 23.8 percent), in the Americas they remained stable, while they fell by 7 percent in Europe and 4 percent in Oceania.
The number of diocesan priests increased by 3.1 percent, going from 265,781 in 2000 to 274,007 in 2008. By contrast, the number of regular priests showed a constant decline, down by 3.04 percent to 135,159 in 2008. Of the continents, only Europe showed a clear reduction in priests: in 2000 they represented 51 percent of the world total, in 2008 just 47 percent. On the other hand, Asia and Africa together represented 17.5 percent of the world total in 2000 and 21.9 percent in 2008. The Americas slightly increased its percentage to around 30 percent of the total.
Non-ordained religious numbered 55.057 in the year 2000 and 54,641 in 2008. Comparing this data by continent, Europe showed a strong decline (down by 16.57 percent), as did Oceania (22.06 percent), the Americas remained stable, while Asia and Africa grew (respectively, by 32 percent and 10.47 percent).
Female religious are almost double the number of priests, and 14 times that of non-ordained male religious, but their numbers are falling, from 800,000 in 2000 to 740,000 in 2008. As for their geographical distribution, 41 percent reside in Europe, 27.47 percent in America, 21.77 percent in Asia and 1.28 percent in Oceania. The number of female religious has increased in the most dynamic continents: Africa (up by 21 percent) and Asia (up by 16 percent).
The Statistical Yearbook of the Church also includes information on the number of students of philosophy and theology in diocesan and religious seminaries. In global terms, their numbers increased from 110.583 in 2000 to more than 117.024 in 2008. In Africa and Asia their numbers went up, whereas Europe saw a reduction.
Here is an excerpt from a paper of mine…
While St. Anselm was Prior of the Abbey of Bec in Normandy, his fellow monks requested that he write a short treatise (Monologion) on faith and the existence of God for the purpose of their private meditation. Reflecting further on the complex line of argumentation in the Monologion, St. Anselm wondered if it would be possible to formulate one single argument for the existence of God that would appeal to all the attributes we believe of Him.
Thus Anselm wrote the Proslogion, a tract consisting of 26 chapters attempting to “prove that God really exists, that He is the supreme good needing no other and is He whom all things have need of for their being and well-being, and also to prove whatever we believe about the Divine Being”. It is difficult to determine whether St. Anselm intended the treatise to be read only by believers or by non believers as well, since there is evidence to support both sides. However, since the format is such that it begins in an elevated oratorical style “rousing the mind to the contemplation of God”, and concludes with “Amen”, I would tend to conclude that the intent was for those who already believe. The ontological argument is found in chapters II and III.
There are actually two distinct arguments in these chapters. The first deals with proving the existence of a most perfect being, and the second proves that if this most perfect being exists, it does so necessarily. The following excerpt is from the second chapter of the Proslogion which contains the first argument:
Well then, Lord, You who give understanding to faith, grant me that I may understand, as much as You see fit, that You exist as we believe You to exist, and that You are what we believe You to be. Now we believe that You are something than which nothing greater can be thought. Or can it be that a thing of such a nature does not exist, since ‘the Fool has said in his heart, there is no God’ [Ps. xiii.I, lii.l]? But surely, when this same Fool hears what I am speaking about, namely, ‘something than which nothing greater can be thought’, he understands what he hears, and what he understands is in his mind, even if he does not understand that it actually exists. For it is one thing for an object to exist in the mind, and another thing to understand that an object actually exists. Thus, when a painter plans beforehand what he is going to execute, he has [the picture] in his mind, but he does not yet think that it actually exists because he has not yet executed it. However, when he has actually painted it, then he both has it in his mind and understands that it exists because he has now made it. Even the Fool, then, is forced to agree that ‘something than which nothing greater can be thought exists in the mind, since he understands this when he hears it, and whatever is understood is in the mind. And surely ‘that than which a greater cannot be thought’ cannot exist in the mind alone. For if it exists solely in the mind even, it can be thought to exist in reality also, which is greater. If then ‘that than which a greater cannot be thought’ exists in the mind alone, this same ‘that than which a greater cannot be thought’ is ‘that than which a greater can be thought”. But this is obviously impossible. Therefore there is absolutely no doubt that ‘something than which a greater cannot be thought’ exists both in the mind and in reality.
The entire line of reasoning in this argument for the existence of God turns on the premise that God is ‘something than which nothing greater can be thought’. St. Anselm thinks that this formula is self evident and really is implicit in the definition of what we believe to be God. However, “the Fool has said in his heart, there is no God”. The following is a re-construction of St. Anselm’s first argument using the text previously excerpted:
1. Now we believe that You are something than which nothing greater can be thought.
2. The Fool hears what I am speaking about, namely ‘something than which nothing greater can be thought’, he understands what he hears.
3. What he understands is in his mind (from 2).
4. And surely ‘that than which a greater cannot be thought1 cannot exist in the mind alone. For if it exists solely in the mind even, it can be thought to exist in reality also, which is greater.
5. Therefore, there is absolutely no doubt that something than which a greater cannot be thought exists both in the mind and in reality.
Ib. Reconstruction of Anselm’s First Argument
From Anselm’s argument we can distill the following:
1. God is that than which no greater can be conceived.
2. That than which no greater can be conceived exists in reality (otherwise a greater could be conceived).
3. Therefore God exists.
The second proof concerns the necessary existence of God (chapters III and IV):
And certainly this being so truly exists that it cannot be even thought not to exist. For something can be thought to exist that cannot be thought not to exist, and this is greater than that which can be thought not to exist. Hence, if ‘that than which a greater cannot be thought’ can be thought not to exist, then ‘that than which a greater cannot be thought is not the same as ‘that than which a greater cannot be thought’, which is absurd. ‘Something than which a greater cannot be thought’ exists so truly then, that it cannot be even thought not to exist. And You, Lord our God, are this being. You exist so truly, Lord my God, that You cannot even be thought not to exist. And this is as it should be, for if some intelligence could think of something better than You, the creature would be above its creator and would judge its creator—and that is completely absurd. In fact, everything else there is, except You alone, can be thought of as not existing. You alone, then, of all things most truly exist and therefore of all things possess existence to the highest degree; for anything else does not exist as truly, and so possesses existence to a lesser degree. Why then did ‘the Fool say in his heart, there is no God’ [Ps. xiii. I, lii. I] when it is so evident to any rational mind that You of all things exist to the highest degree? Why indeed, unless because he was stupid and a fool?
1. Something can be thought to exist that cannot be thought not to exist.
2. This is greater than that which can be thought not to exist.
3. If ‘that than which a greater cannot be thought1 can be thought not to exist, then ‘that than which a greater cannot be thought’ is not the same as ‘that than which a greater cannot be thought’, which is absurd.
4. Therefore, ‘something than which a greater cannot be thought’ exists so truly then, that it cannot be even thought not to exist.
St. Anselm supports this second argument in the second half of the third chapter excerpted above:
1. If some intelligence could think of something better than You, the creature would be above its creator and would judge its creator.
2. Everything else there is, except You alone, can be thought of as not existing.
3. You alone, then, of all things most truly exist and therefore of all things possess existence to the highest degree.
From the above argument and its supporting argument we can distill the following:
1. God is that than which no greater is or is conceivable (from I.l.)«
2. That than which no greater is or is conceivable cannot be conceived not to exist (see argument III below).
3. Whatever cannot be conceived not to exist necessarily exists.
4. Therefore God necessarily exists.
1. Whatever cannot be conceived not to exist is greater than what can be conceived not to exist.
2. God is that than which no greater is conceivable (from II.1. ) .
3. Therefore God cannot be conceived not to exist.
A criticism of St. Anselm’s proof, entitled A Reply to the Foregoing by a Certain Writer On Behalf of the Fool, was sent to him by Gaunilo, a monk of the Abbey of Marmoutier near Tours. In total there are eight articles in his reply, seven of which offer criticisms, whereas the eighth offers praise for the remainder of the ‘brilliantly argued tract’ of the Proslogion. In turn, Anselm wrote a reply to these criticisms entitled A Reply to the Foregoing by the Author in Question. “Anselm’s reply poses something of a problem, since it is not a systematic treatment of either the original argument in the Proslogion or Gaunilo’s criticism. Rather it has a character of a series of notes”. Therefore, we will look at each of Gaunilo’s criticisms in his order of presentation, as well as the relevant corresponding replies of Anselm.
[1.] Gaunilo begins by simply restating Anselm’s first argument as it appears in the second chapter of the Proslogion, but with one variation. Gaunilo changes Anselm’s formula of ‘something than which nothing greater can be thought’ to ‘that which is greater than everything’. Anselm responds to this in reply V as follows: “For ‘that which is greater than everything1 and ‘that than which a greater cannot be thought’ are not equivalent for the purpose of proving the real existence of the thing spoken of. For what if someone should say that something that is greater than everything actually exists, and yet that this same being can be thought of as not existing, and that something greater than it can be thought, even if this does not exist?”. There is a great difference between the two formulae; Anselm, by using ‘conceived’, included both possibility and actuality. Gaunilo erred by not including the possible, and thus they were referring to two different objects. Anselm here sufficiently clarifies his position and his reply to Gaunilo is well taken.
[2.] In the second article Gaunilo attacks the second premise of Anselm’s first argument. Gaunilo states, “For could I not say that all kinds of unreal things, not existing in themselves in any way at all, are equally in the mind since if anyone speaks about them I understand whatever he says?”. His primary objection to Anselm’s premise is that something which is false or non-existent can by the very fact it is heard, exist in the mind and therefore presumably be inferred to exist in reality. There must, he concludes, be a difference in the way in which ‘that than which nothing greater can be thought’ exists in the mind and these non-beings exist in the mind. Anselm’s reply (chapter VI) is as follows: “…I was concerned to prove something which was in doubt, and for me it was sufficient that I should first show that it was understood and existed in the mind in some way or other, leaving it to be determined subsequently whether it was in the mind alone as unreal things are, or in reality also as true things are”. What Anselm clarifies is that it does not matter that false or non-existent things are conceived in the same way as a most perfect being. By that premise Anselm only wanted to prove that such a concept exists in the mind. Gaunilo’s own objection proves that Anselm was successful. Therefore Gaunilo’s criticism actually confirms Anselm’s intended point.
[3.] Gaunilo proceeds to criticize Anselm’s example of the unpainted picture: “even if it were true that there was something than which nothing greater can be thought, this thing, heard and understood, would not, however, be the same as the not-yet-made picture is in the mind of the painter”. Anselm responds: “[your painstaking argument is beside the point.] For I did not propose the example of the foreknown picture because I wanted to assert that what was at issue was in the same case, but rather that so I could show that something not understood as existing exists in the mind”. I think Anselm did not directly respond to the point in this objection and he failed to see the importance of Gaunilo’s criticism. Anselm agreed that there is a great difference between the painter having a clear and distinct understanding of what he is about to complete, and the finished painting. However, the distinction was between existence in the mind and necessary instantiated existence. For example, it is possible to have the concept of an existent round square. By combining the concepts of existence, roundness and squareness it is possible to conceive of such an object as existent by virtue of its very nature or definition. It does not necessarily follow, though, that this object exists in reality, for we know that it is an impossibility, even though “existent” belongs to its definition. So it is the same with God. We can conceive of ‘something than which nothing greater can be conceived’ as truly existing in our minds, but it does not follow that such a being, even if necessarily conceived as existent is necessarily real. Gaunilo wins this point.
[4.] The next criticism reinforces the previous one: Gaunilo states that not even the idea can be known. “If I heard something said about a man who was completely unknown to me so that I did not even know whether he existed, I could nevertheless think about him in his very reality as a man by means of that specific or generic notion by which I know what a man is or men are. However, it could happen that, because of a falsehood on the part of the speaker, the man I thought of did not actually exist, although I thought of him nevertheless as a truly existing object”. He then states that God, although one can hear about him, cannot even be known to this limited degree because his ‘genus and species’ are not known. It follows then that since God cannot even be understood, only the individual words used to describe Him, there is no idea of Him to which one might ascribe real existence. Anselm responds in the first article that his strongest argument is an appeal to Gaunilo’s faith. This in fact is the weakest argument. He then continues:
[5.] “If something that cannot even be thought in the true and real sense must be said to exist in the mind, then I do not deny that this also exists in my mind in the same way. But since from this one cannot in any way conclude that it exists also in reality, I certainly do not yet concede that it actually exists, until this is proved to me by an indubitable argument”. Gaunilo explains that understanding something named does not mean it can be inferred to exist. Anselm responds in articles I and II: “I insist, however, that simply if it can be thought it is necessary that it exists. In the second article Anselm reiterates his original sound major argument that to think of ‘that than which nothing greater can be conceived’ as not existing is contradictory. But it is clear that he and Gaunilo are arguing at cross-purposes.
[6.] This is Gaunilo’s famous example of the Lost Island. Suppose there is a most beautiful island somewhere in the ocean that is better than all others in reality as well as conceptually. Because it is better to exist in reality than only in the mind, it logically follows that this most perfect island of which there is no greater necessarily exists in reality. He says that this is absolutely foolish. Anselm replies that his formula only applies to a Most Perfect Being, since the inference to a Most Perfect Being is based on pure ontological excellence, not on excellence within a particular genus.
[7.] Gaunilo’s final criticism maintains that God can be thought not to exist. He states, “When have I said that there truly existed some being that is ‘greater than everything’, such that from this it could be proved to me that this same being really existed to such a degree that it could not be thought not to exist?”. Anselm replies that it would be better to say that God cannot be understood, rather than he cannot be thought not to exist. Anselm’s reply is beside the point. He ought to have said that a conception of a God who might not exist was a defective conception and not the correct of a Most Perfect Being.
Today at the Solemn Veneration of the cross we will sing the Crux Fidelis, a hymn about the Cross of Christ written by St. Venantius Fortunatis in the late 6th century. Traditionally sung during the transferal of the Blessed Sacrament during the Good Friday Liturgy, it was written for the reception of a large relic of the True Cross from the Byzantine Emperor Justinian II to the monastery of St. Croix at Poitiers.
The beautiful poem hails the victory over Adam’s original sin by Christ, the New Adam, and His Holy Cross. He went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha. Traditional says “the skull” was that of Adam and the tree which hung our Savior was fashioned from a limb of the very tree from which Eve stole the fruit in the garden.
Faithful is the Cross, one noble tree among all others:
no forest has offered anything like unto it
in foliage, flower or seed.
Sweet the wood, sweet the nails,
sweet the weight which it supports.
Sing, my tongue, the victory of the glorious battle, and tell the
noble triumph won on the memorial sign of the Cross: how the
Redeemer of the World, once sacrificed, was conquered.
The Creator, sorrowing over the deceit of our first parents, when
a bite of deadly fruit cast them into death, took note of that tree
then, so that he might release those damned by it.
This work of our salvation demanded a proper order, so that art
might deceive the manifold art of the deceiver, and the enemy
might pay the price from the same place he inflicted the wound.
Eternal glory to the Blessed Trinity, and to Father and to Son
coequal; likewise to the coequal Paraclete: let all creation
praise the Name of the One and Three. Amen.
translation by Albert Trudel, OP