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August 30 Saints of the Day – Alexander of Constantinople and Pammachius

On this day in 1909, paleontologist Charles Doolittle Walcott discovered fossils in the Burgess Shale. The Burgess Shale is noted for its preservation of soft tissues, even though Kleenex would not be marketed until 1924.

Alexander of ConstantinopleAlexander of Constantinople (ca. 240 – 340), the last bishop of Byzantium and the first Patriarch of Constantinople (everybody sing: “It’s Constantinople, not Byzantium. . .”) represented his predecessor Metrophanes, himself too old for travel, at the First Council of Nicea. Metrophanes’ will specified that Alexander be elected as his successor, and that’s what happened, either out of obedience and charity, or because he had really good lawyers. Let’s hope it’s the former.

Alexander apparently spent his patriarchate fighting pagans and Arians (with, one hopes, a little R&R in the country). Once in a debate he told a pagan philosopher, “I abjure you in the name of Jesus Christ to shut up,” and the pagan shut up. Through various hand signals (not, as some foolishly aver, American Sign Language), the philosopher indicated he had changed his mind, and when his voice returned, he confessed the Christian faith.

After his denunciation, Arius appeared before Emperor Constantine (the Great), and when asked to confirm the findings of the Council, he declared, hand on breast, “This is what I believe.” But he had secretly sewn a copy of his heretical manifesto into his jerkin, and was thus toying with the demonstrative, as the linguists say (using “this” to mean something other than it seemed, as the vernacule say). Alexander was commanded to receive Arius back into communion, but he had a funny feeling about it, and prayed all night for a way out of the situation. Things might have gone south, had Arius not obviated the problem by conveniently dying on his way to the cathedral. Tradition says he died on the, um, throne, and his soul left his body “in an unseemly manner.” (And people say Tradition has no sense of humor.)

Alexander’s soul left his body not long after (albeit in a more seemly manner and place), and he was praised in an encomium (“praise thingy”) by Gregory the Great.

PammachiusPammachius (d. ca. 410) was a Roman senator and schoolmate of St. Jerome. He married Paulina, second daughter of St. Paula. He denounced a certain Jovinian to the Pope for preaching that all sins and thus all punishments were equal (this teaching was condemned both at a council in Rome, and by St. Ambrose). When Jerome attacked Jovinian in one of his famous screeds, erm, treatises, Pammachius wrote him, asking him to tone down the language, and not be so chauvinist about virginity at the expense of marriage. Jerome wrote back thanking Pam for his interest, and inviting him to buzz off. He also worked in a plug for the book.

When Paulina died in childbirth, Pammachius (with the help of St. Fabiola) founded a hospice at the mouth of the Tiber for sick people and travelers (and you’d have to be sick to travel to the mouth of the Tiber in those days), the first such institution in the West. Whether or not he became a monk, he dedicated the rest of his life to serving the poor and firing missives to Jerome advising him to tone it down. Jerome never did tone it down, of course, but he did dedicate many of his works to his friend.

Pammachius also wrote a letter to the tenants of his familial estates in Numidia (in North Africa), urging them to give up their Donatism and return to the fold. (Donatists taught that the sacraments depended for their efficacy on the moral character of the person administrating them — which would be disastrous for people who happen to have sinful priests (I assume none of our readers are in this position, but I have heard it does happen)). Augustine wrote and thanked him for that.

He turned his home in Rome into the Church of Saints John and Paul, which was subsequently sacked, earthquaked, rebuilt, sacked again, and rebuilt again. It is the “station church” (site of a special procession) of the first Friday in Lent.

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

August 30 (Wikipedia)
Burgess Shale (Wikipedia)
Kleenex (Wikipedia)
St Alexander the Patriarch of Constantinople (OCA) – Main source
Alexander of Constantinople (Wikipedia)
Metrophanes of Byzantium (Wikipedia)
Icon of Alexander from OCA (copyright unknown)
Saint Pammachius (Wikipedia) – Main source
Pammachius the Senator (St. Patrick DC)
Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Rome (Wikipedia)
Station days (Wikipedia)
Image of Pammachius from Wikimedia. They think it’s probably covered under fair use laws in the US. I hope (a) Google Translate’s translation of the Portuguese is right, and (b) they’re right.


About Your Intrepid Blogger

I live in the Tacoma area. When not writing things some people think are funny, I teach technology to 7th and 8th graders at a local middle school.

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