Pope Sylvester, and the End of a Decade

As 2019 comes to an end, ‘tis fitting to look back on the year – even the decade – that was, and prepare for what will be. Paula Adamick has her own take on some of the more significant events, most of them troubling – and the reader may add to the list – but more on that in moment.

We don’t know a whole lot about the mysterious and shadowy Pope Saint Sylvester, who reigned from 314, soon after Constantine made Christianity legal with his victory at the Milvian Bridge, until his death on this day in 335. But he must have been a vigorous man, for his reign was nothing if not externally eventful: With her legal status, the Church could build official churches, and build she did, under the Pope’s direction: It is from this time that we have Saint John Lateran, Santa Croce in Jerusalem, the original Saint Peter’s Basilica – before the splendid renaissance structure we now know.  There is also the ‘donation of Constantine’, steeped in legend, with the emperor giving the Pope territory around Rome as a basis for the Church’s temporal apostolate and authority, which, whatever the necessity of such temporal power, would cause so much trouble in the Middle Ages, right up to the modern era (with the compromise reached with the Lateran Accord in 1929).

Sylvester also sent legates, Vitus and Vincentius, to the Council of Nicaea in 325, approving its decrees, including the condemnation of Arianism, defining for all time the divinity of Christ as homo-ousios, ‘consubstantial’, with the Father.

Stories told of Sylvester include that he cured the emperor of leprosy, that the emperor submitted to the Pope, walking on foot and leading him on horseback, a symbol that earthly power is subordinate to the spiritual that would culminate in Canossa, and is still a doctrine of our Faith. For our end is heaven, not this earth, the form of which is passing away.

There is an eschatological note to this final day of the calendar year, as there was a month ago in the end of the liturgical year with Christ the King, and the beginning of Advent. In the first reading this morning, he warns of Antichrist, and that already many antichrists have come, whose spirit may be recognized primarily, as the Apostle warns elsewhere, in the denial of Christ’s Incarnation – see, Arianism, above. We may extend to an opposition to the Church, the sacraments, to the truth of the end and purpose of Man. As the Catechism puts it, the mimic of Christ will preach a ‘secular messianism’, a salvation in this world alone, that our happiness is found in the here and now. Hence, radical environmentalism – becoming more bizarre and cult-like with every mention of little Ms. Thurnberg, and now the ironically named Extinction Rebellion – population control, socialism, hedonism, selfism, relativism, transgenderism, with an easy euthanasia when it all becomes too much in your forties, and the inevitable suffering becomes ‘intolerable’. Things are ramping up – Putin’s and Kim Jong’s missiles, and just this morning, the mob attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

In the midst of what the strife, we Christians live in joy and hope – I will provide some musical selections in another post – with each new year bringing us closer to eternal life, for which we were made. So rejoice, and be of good cheer, for our redemption is closer now.

May 2020 be filled with Christ’s grace and truth, for one and all.