January 7 – John the Baptist; Raymond of Peñafort; Lucian of Antioch

Icon of John the Baptist, provenance unknownThe Synaxis* of John the Forerunner (aka John the Baptist) falls on the day after he performs his most important baptism. John, a cousin of Jesus, was the first person to recognize Mary as Theotokos, although at the time (he was still in the womb) he might not have put it in exactly those words. After his Bar Mitzvah, John took to preaching in the wilderness wearing clothes made of camel’s hair and breath made of locusts and vituperation. An entrepreneur, he started a baptism business on the shores of the Jordan River, thus fulfilling what his father Zachariah had written on a tablet years before: “His name is John the Baptist.” As was celebrated yesterday, Jesus was baptised in the Jordan by John, and not, as has sometimes been said by overworked priests at house blessings, by Jordan in the john.

Painting of Raymond of Peñafort sailing on his cloak, by Dolabella, 1627Raymond of Peñafort (1175–1275) was a Spanish nobleman, philosopher, lawyer, author, confessor to the Pope, bishop, codifier of canon law—one of those polymaths who makes the rest of us feel like we haven’t done anything with our lives. And this was all before he turned 63 and had the mantle of leader of the Dominican order thrust upon him. Always the clever lawyer, however, within two years he had managed to change the rules of the order to allow himself to resign, then promptly did so. He spent the last 35 years of his life harrying Spanish Moors and Thomas Aquinas (Jan 28). It is not said which of them resented it more.

Icon of Lucian of Antioch, Russian, 985Lucian of Antioch (c. 240–312) gave his rich parents’ money away as soon as they were safely in the grave and couldn’t complain about it. He then dedicated himself to the study of rhetoric, philosophy, and scripture (a combination of which your intrepid hagiographer wholeheartedly approves).

His studies in the scriptures were noted and admired by many, including the pious yet irascible Jerome (Sep 30). He championed the in-depth study of the literal meaning of the scriptures, and is credited by some as the founder of the Antiochian school of biblical study (an informal appellation for those in that city who studied scripture in that way, and for that way of studying scripture). Others of course say it was somebody else (as others will do). He also worked to clarify and correct the biblical manuscripts, most notably fixing spelling, and providing a running commentary. Jerome found these invaluable whilst producing the Vulgate. (More helpful than Paula (Jan 26)? Our sources here maintain a respectful silence.)

Then disaster struck, as is its wont. (Have you ever noticed that disaster so seldom settles down softly like snow, or bumps up against you gently, but always strikes?) His bishop Paul of Samosata was deposed for heresy (or heresies; my sources mention Monarchianism[1] and adoptionism[2]). Lucian was somehow implicated, and subsequently excommunicated. He remained so through the terms of office of the next two bishops (Domnus and Timaeus), and restored either under Timaeus’s successor Cyril, or his successor Tyrannus (who was not a Rex, alas). I was unable to find out much (where “not much” means “nothing at all”) about any of these names (they’re not hyperlinks in Wikipedia).

Lucian was either in Nicomedia when the persecutions under Diocletian began, or was taken to Nicomedia by the persecutors under Maximus Daia. He spent nine years in prison with occasional involuntary forays to court, where he was inevitably invited to renounce his faith, and inevitably declined. In one incident that has come down to us, he answered every question put to him with some variant of the word “Christian.” Thus, “Who are you?” “A Christian.” “What is your profession?” “I am a Christian.” “What is your origin?” “Christian.” “What is your family?” “Christian.” And so forth. This won him the acclaim of John Chrysostom, which is no small thing indeed.

[1] Belief that God is a single Person rather than three Persons in Trinity.
[2] Belief that Jesus was adopted as Son of God at his baptism; a type of Monarchianism. It was declared heretical in the late second century—long before the councils defining Trinitarianism. A handy fact to know if you are of the sort given to online debate with people who think the Trinity was invented at the Council of Nicea. If you are that sort, God bless you. It’s a hard road.