Beware the Ides of March

For the Romans, the 15th (or sometimes the 13th) of every month was called the “Ides,” marking the full moon.  Today is the Ides of March.

On this day in 44 B.C., Julius Caesar was assassinated by a group of Senators led by his friend Brutus, who was trying to preserve the Roman Republic by killing the man who was turning Rome into an empire.  The action only delayed briefly the fall of the republic.  (We tend to fixate on the fall of the Roman empire, but we need to worry more about parallels with the fall of the Roman republic.)

See Ides of March – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

So this Roman centurion goes into a bar and orders a martinus.  The bartender asks, “Do you mean a martini?”  The centurion says, “Look, if I wanted a double I’d tell you!”

Let us observe the Ides of March with Latin jokes, reasons why Latin should be taught in school, parallels with the transition from republic to empire, predictions of doom, or whatever else seems appropriate.

The oldest church in the world

Lent is a good time for contemporary Christians to contemplate their solidarity with the Church as the Body of Christ, which extends around the world and back through time.

Here are the remains of the oldest church building that has been found.  It’s called the  Dura-Europas, from a town by that name, in Syria.  It has been dated from 235 A.D.

It’s a house church,in that it’s an ordinary house to which was attached a separate long hall that was used for worship.  Remains of a baptistry were found, as well as fragments of parchment that have been identified as scraps of a Communion liturgy.  Also, around the baptistry are frescoes of scenes from the Bible.  Here is Christ healing the paralytic:

Christ healing the paralytic, from Dura-Europas Church, 235 A.D.

For more of these paintings, which must be some of the very earliest examples of Christian art, go to the Wikipedia article linked below.  I love their extreme simplicity, but also the intense piety that they express.

Think of the people who made these and who worshiped here.  In 235 A.D., the books of the Bible would have been available for about a century.  Christians were being killed for their faith and would be for another hundred years.  Based on mentions of the pre-Easter fasts in texts that date even earlier, these folks probably observed Lent.

The 10 Oldest Churches in the World | Weird Pictures, Wonderful Things.

Dura-Europas church

The last dough-boy

The last American veteran of World War I died at the age of 110.  Frank Buckles enlisted in 1917, lying about his age, which was only 16.  After that war, he worked in the civilian merchant marine. When World War II broke out, he was captured by the Japanese and spent over three years in a P.O.W. camp in the Philippines.

Two others who served in World War I are still alive, a 109-year-old man from Australia and a 110-year-old woman from Great Britain.

Mr. Buckles, who lived in West Virginia, sounds like he was a really likeable guy.  Read his profile: Last U.S. World War I veteran Frank W. Buckles dies at 110.

The Czar and the President as liberators

Russia is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the emancipation of the serfs by Czar Alexander II, tying this event to what the Czar’s contemporary, President Abraham Lincoln, would do soon thereafter in emancipating America’s slaves.  From the Washington Post:

In this season of sesquicentennials, Russia is marking the liberation of 20 million serfs on March 3, 1861. That was one day before Lincoln was sworn in as the 16th president, assuming powers that he would eventually use to bring American slavery to an end. . . .

Alexander was intent on reforming the creaky Russian state, and the conservative owners of Russia’s vast land holdings passionately resisted him. Liberals couldn’t help but notice the parallels with the slave-holding plantation owners in the American South, said Andrei Yanovsky, a co-curator of the archive exhibit. In the 1850s, in fact, when censorship made it impossible to criticize conditions in Russia, newspapers and magazines devoted large amounts of space to denunciations of American slavery – and, Kurilla said, readers understood that this was a stand-in for the actual target, Russian serfdom.

His foreign minister said Alexander considered the outbreak of the Civil War to be “deplorable,” threatening the progress and prosperity that America had achieved in its 80 years of independence. The czar sent naval squadrons to New York and San Francisco as a show of support for the Union. Russia at the time was wary of British designs and feared that a Confederate victory would play into British hands. On this point he got no argument from Lincoln.

The president was under no illusions about Russian despotism – he once remarked, before going to the White House, that at least it was honest about its cruelty, compared with the hypocrisy that swirled around the American debate over slavery. For his part, Alexander seems to have been confident enough in the lasting power of the Russian royal family that he needn’t worry about befriending a republic that had cast off a king.

via Russia remembers Lincoln as it marks the freeing of the serfs.

The White Rose

Yesterday was the anniversary of the execution of three German university students, devout Christians, who spoke out against Hitler on the basis of their faith.  In this account, contemplate their words that got them guillotined:

On February 22, 1943, Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans, and Christoph Probst were executed by guillotine in Munich, Germany. Their crimes? Anonymously distributing leaflets criticizing the German government at the University of Munich. They were members of the White Rose, an underground student group that should inspire every American who loves the cause of liberty.

The White Rose was comprised of a dozen or so University of Munich students, including Probst and the Scholls. They were active when very few participated in opposition to the Nazi regime. After German defeats at Stalingrad, many Germans silently feared for the future of Germany, but scant few ever put their lives on the line through deeds. . . .

Between March 1942 and February 1943, the White Rose wrote and secretly produced anti-Nazi leaflets. They copied them on mimeograph machines and literally left them lying all around Munich. They stenciled anti-Hilter messages on the sides of buildings. The Gestapo went wild. Nobody else in Germany was doing anything of the sort.

White Rose leaflet four captures the totalitarian corruption of language as well as a view of Hitler justified by hindsight:

“Every word that proceeds from Hitler’s mouth is a lie. When he says peace, he means war. And when he names the name of the Almighty in a most blasphemous manner, he means the almighty evil one, that fallen angel, Satan. His mouth is the stinking maw of hell and his might is fundamentally reprobate. To be sure, one must wage the battle against National Socialism using rational means. But whoever still does not believe in the actual existence of demonic powers has not comprehended by far the metaphysical background of this war.” . . .

The fourth White Rose leaflet spoke of a need for a continuous watch, because we will never reach the End of History:

“Everywhere and at all times, the demons have waited in darkness for the hour in which mankind is weak; in which he voluntarily abandons the position in the world order that is based on freedom and comes from God; in which he yields to the force of the Evil One, disengaging himself from the powers of a higher order.”

The White Rose Martyrs

[The three who died, from left to right: Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl, and Christoph Probst.]

via Pajamas Media » The White Rose: An Anniversary of Three Executions.

UPDATE:  Sophie and Hans are described in the Wikipedia article as “devout Lutherans.”

Ronald Reagan as actor

Yesterday would have been the 100th birthday of Ronald Reagan.  In the articles commemorating the day, it is evident that even liberal scholars have come to appreciate the man and his presidency.

The Washington Post published a feature on “Five Myths about Ronald Reagan” by his biographer Edmund Morris.  I got a kick out of this one:

1. He was a bad actor.

Well, yes and no. Most of the movies he made as a Warner Bros. contract player are unwatchable by persons of sound mind. When he was president, it was easy to laugh at them. The spectacle of the leader of the free world, a.k.a. Secret Service agent Brass Bancroft, deploying an enormous ray gun against an airborne armada was especially hilarious in 1983, the year he announced the Strategic Defense Initiative, that vaporizer of foreign nuclear missiles. “All right, Hayden – focus that inertia projector on ‘em and let ‘em have it!”

Even when Reagan believed he was acting well, as in “Kings Row,” he betrayed infallible signs of thespian mediocrity: an unwillingness to listen to other performers and an inability to communicate thoughts. Now that he is dead, however, one feels an odd tenderness for the effort he put into every role – particularly in early movies, when he struggled to control a tendency of his lips to writhe around his too-rapid speech.

Ironically, he was transformed into a superb actor when he took on the roles of governor of California, presidential candidate and president of the United States. Then, as never in his movies, he became authoritative, authentic, irresistible to eye and ear. His two greatest performances, in my opinion, were at the Republican National Convention in 1976, when he effortlessly stole Gerald Ford’s thunder as nominee and made the delegates regret their choice, and at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1985, when he delivered the supreme speech of his presidency.

I asked him once if he had any nostalgia for the years he was nuzzling up to Ann Sheridan and Doris Day on camera. He gestured around the Oval Office. “Why should I? I have the biggest stage in the world, right here!”

via Five myths about Ronald Reagan.

Post your Reagan tributes, critiques, and nuanced evaluations here.


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