N.B: I will be on silent retreat for a week. Because I usually upload blogs, podcasts and videos a week ahead of time, my production schedule will normalize mid-January. I hope to re-start myself (by God’s grace) and also re-start my education series like VLX and the Sunday Sermon Series in a couple weeks. I’m sorry for my absence on that, but one reason for the delay is that we had a medical emergency. By your prayers, everything is good on that front, now. Please pray for me on retreat.
In Victories of the Martyrs as conglomerated by St. Alphonsus Liguori, we read about St. Philip, the bishop of Heraclea:
Philip, although unable to enter the church, was unwilling to abandon it altogether, and remained at the door with his people. Separating the good from the bad, he exhorted the former to remain constant in the faith, and called upon the latter to return to God by sincere repentance. Bassus, finding them assembled, caused them to be arrested, and having demanded who was their master, Philip answered: “I am he.” The governor said: “Hast thou not heard the edict of the emperor, that in no place shall the Christians be assembled, but shall sacrifice to the gods, or perish?” He then commanded that the gold and silver vessels, together with the books that treated of the Christian law, should be delivered up; otherwise that recourse would be had to torture. Philip replied: “For my part, I am willing to suffer in this my body, tottering with age, whatever thou canst inflict; but abandon thou the thought of having any control over my spirit. The sacred vessels are at thy disposal; but it shall be my care to prevent the holy books from falling into thy hands.” Bassus, infuriated at this answer, called forward the executioners, and caused the saint to undergo a cruel and protracted torture.
The line from the above account that should trouble any Catholic as perhaps sounding a little Protestant would be this response from St. Philip: “The sacred vessels are at thy disposal; but it shall be my care to prevent the holy books from falling into thy hands.” We must ask: Why was the ancient saint and martyr willing to hand over to pagans “the sacred vessels” but not “the holy books”? Does this not sound Protestant that the vessels for Holy Mass are more disposable than the books that contain the Christian faith?
The reason this should not trouble Catholics is because “the holy books” was tantamount to a good chunk of the transmission of the Catholic Faith. “The Holy Books” include not only the Bible, but even our liturgical, sacramental and hagiographical books. The sacred vessels are extremely important—then and now—but we must remember that without the books of our liturgy, we might lose the ancient faith. We may maintain Apostolic Catholicism even if we lose access to the old sacraments. But we may not maintain the old sacraments if we forget the ancient faith.
Yesterday, on the 2nd of January in the Roman Martyrology, we read something very similar: “In Rome, the commemoration of many holy martyrs, who, despising the edict of the emperor Diocletian, which ordered that the sacred books should be delivered up, preferred to surrender themselves to the executioners rather than to give holy things to dogs.” Furthermore, St. Thomas Aquinas considered what was found in the ancient liturgy and even the Roman Breviary to be dogma sufficient for disproving the heretics of his day. The old books may never be replaced by new so-called “Catholic” books sprinkled with paganism or Protestantism if we want to have the Catholic faith necessary to salvation.
The Catholic Church had very bad leadership from certain periods from the 8th to the 10th century. During this time (and for a few hundred years prior to it) the Irish monks kept the Apostolic Faith alive by meticulously copying all the books of the Bible as well as the ancient liturgical and sacramental books in their monasteries. Of course, the Irish monks had no temptation to move themselves to a set of new-fangled sacraments as did all monasteries in the 1970s à la the 1973 movie called The Catholics with Martin Sheen. But the old monks of the Isla Sanctorum in the first millennium understood that keeping the sacraments was not enough if the old-school religion was lost on the continent as-a-whole.
So also, today, we can not be satisfied with dressing-up in pretty liturgical things if we do not keep a hold of the inerrancy of Scripture in our hearts. Even if we were to memorize the entire Bible and the Roman Canon and the old rites of the sacraments, for the sake of posterity, we must assert the following: We must physically safeguard in our hermitages and parishes and homes the old Roman Missal, the Roman Ritual, the books for the old sacraments, as well as the books for blessings and exorcisms. So did the early Christians as well as the Irish monks. This was to keep the Catholic Faith alive when it was under attack from without the Church…or within.