Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Doctor Apostolicus

 Today is the feast of St. Lorenzo da Brindisi, or Lawrence of Brindisi, Doctor of the Church. He was born in Brindisi on July 22, 1559 as Giulio Cesare Russo and he died in Lisbon on July 22, 1619. He was famous in his own day for his unusual facility with languages, being fluent in at least half a dozen, and able to adapt easily to different dialects in each, and having a basic conservational ability in several others. Because of this, he spent much of his life in preaching and in work that required considerable travel. Early in his career he was assigned to be preacher to the Jews of Rome, who originally assumed he was a converted Jew because he spoke Hebrew almost as well as the rabbis. A Capuchin, he was eventually elected vicar general of the order, which apparently he did not particularly like, since he refused to accept the office again when re-elected. Instead, he did diplomatic work for the papal court until his death.

The most famous event associated with him is the siege of Székesfehérvár. The Ottoman Turks under Mehmed III had undertaken a large-scale invasion of Hungary. In 1601, the Emperor borrowed St. Lawrence, who was at the time founding a convent in Prague, to serve as an emergency ambassador to various German principalities, whom St. Lawrence helped convince to provide additional support for the Hungarian cause; St. Lawrence then served as chaplain for the army. Despite the recruited help, the army was at considerable disadvantage; the Turks outnumbered it by about four to one. Morale was collapsing, so he was asked to speak to the troops before battle; he did so very effectively, then, mounting a horse and holding up a crucifix, stayed on the front lines with them during the battle despite having no weapons or armor. The Turks had devastating losses and the imperial army took the city. At another battle in the next few days, he did the same thing, and the imperial army won again. The Turks would retake the city the next year, but the temporary setback slowed Ottoman momentum and contributed to turning the Long War (1593-1606) between Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire from being the Ottoman success it originally seemed it would be into a draw. In any case, St. Lawrence has always been associated with the success in the siege of Székesfehérvár, and despite being a very small part of his actual achievements has always fired the imagination enough to play a large part in his iconography. He is often known as the Apostolic Teacher, though, for his extensive missionary work and preaching.

From his commentary on Genesis:

The Septuagint, Symmachus, and Theodotion translated bereshith as 'In the beginning'. Aquila rendered it 'In the little head'. The Aramaic version has beqadmin instead of bereshith; however, in Aramaic qdmin means the beginning of time. The second Aramaic translation of the Old Testament, called the Jerusalem Targum, rendered the Hebrew as bechokma, 'In wisdom'. This rendering rebuts the error of the impious founder of Manichaeism (who supposed two beginnings of things: one of good things, a second of bad; one of spiritual things, the other of bodily things) since in Genesis God is said to have created in the beginning, i.e. in the Son, the heavens and the earth. 

However, this last rendering is more in accordance with the sense than the letter. Moreover, it wonderfully supports Tertullian (in his treatise Against Praxeas), Origen, Hilary, and Augustine, who think that the phrase 'In the beginning' must be explained as meaning 'in wisdom', i.e., in the Son, Who is the Word and Wisdom of the Father and the beginning of all things, by whom all things were made (as is clear in the first chapter of John), Who also says of Himself in John 'I am the beginning who also speak unto you'. Also in support of this rendering is what God says of Himself in the Psalms: 'In the head of the book it is written of me', i.e. in the beginning of Genesis. In accordance with this reading, the word bereshith can be translated (1) 'in the beginning' or (2) 'with the beginning' and (3) 'by the beginning', because the Hebrew preposition for 'in' has three accepted usages. The first is the pre-eminent and most frequent; the second we find in Isaiah 7, 'they shall go there with bow and arrows.' The third usage we see in Genesis: 'I swear by myself.' However, the sacred theologians assert that God created the world in His Son and with His Son and by His Son....

[St. Lawrence of Brindisi, St. Lawrence of Brindisi on Creation and the Fall, Toth, tr., Warkulwiz, ed., The Kolbe Center for the Study of Creation (Mount Jackson, VA: 2018), p. 4.]

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