Pro Unione

The real Narnia

Today I fulfilled a childhood dream, and explored Narnia. Really.

There is something appropriate in the fact that i entered through a train platform, no less.

For years, taking the train up to Assisi or Florence, one of the stations you pass is Narni-Amelia, and inevitably one thinks of Narnia. But it looks like a small town with little to recommend it, so i have blithely passed on by, spending my rare travel days in more exotic locations. I have always chalked up the similarity to coincidence. Silly me.

Narnia walking

The first clue

Narni is the Italianized name, of course, for a mid-sized town perched on a hill 800′ above sea level, and rising over the Nera river from which it probably got its original name. Settled by the Umbri – neighbors of the Etruscans – sometime before 600 B.C., the village was called Nequinum. As they were wont to do, the Romans showed up a few centuries later, and in about 300 B.C., it became a proper Roman municipality, and, as the original name sounded something like “unable/worthless” in Latin, the name was changed to, you guessed it, Narnia.

As you enter town, remains of an Augustan bridge still straddle some of the valley, built in 27 B.C.. Around the time that Jesus of Nazareth began his itinerant ministry in the Galilee, the future emperor Marcus Cocceius Nerva (96-98) was born here. Pliny the Younger (whose description of Vesuvius gave his name, ‘Plinian’, to that manner of volcanic eruption) recommends the baths here. Near the Ponte Cardona is a marker and a sign in several languages indicating that you are now at the geographic center of Italy.*

According to a 2002 biography of C.S. Lewis, by Lancelyn Green,

When Walter Hooper asked [C. S. Lewis] where he found the word ‘Narnia’, Lewis showed him Murray’s Small Classical Atlas, ed. G.B. Grundy (1904), which he acquired when he was reading the classics with Mr Kirkpatrick at Great Bookham [1914–1917]. On plate 8 of the Atlas is a map of ancient Italy. Lewis had underscored the name of a little town called Narnia, simply because he liked the sound of it.

There is no record of Lewis actually visiting Narni, but the name is not the only connection. There is also a Blessed Lucy of Narnia, a 16th century mystic, whose remains were restored to Narni at about the time that Lewis began to think up his Chronicles.I cannot help but think that the fact that a mystical creature is the city’s symbol and coat of arms couldn’t hurt, either.


Rocca Albornoziana (Cair Paravel?)

If you want to go both higher up and further in, two of the features of the town are the Rocca Albornoziana at the highest point, and the relatively recently rediscovered rooms of the Narni Sotterranea, excavated underneath the deconsecrated Church of San Domenico.

As one walks up through the city toward the 13th century castle – built to defend against Saracen invaders – one can imagine inspiration for Cair Paravel. In good shape, with a lot of modern construction to support a small museum, this is the site of some serious summer medieval fair experiences, it seems. Named for Cardinal Egidio Albornoz, apostolic vicar responsible for restoring the military influence of the Avignon popes in the Italian peninsula in the 1350’s and ’60’s.

On the other hand, the history of the underground reads more like Grossman’s The Magicians than Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. In the late seventies (more than a decade after Lewis’ death) a small band of young people from Narni had formed a kind of spelunking club, and discovered a small crack that lead into an underground chamber, which turned out to be the Church of Saint Michael the Archangel, a twelfth century chapel. Along with the chapel are a series of rooms that turn out to be cells and a torture chamber, used by the Inquisition for a period of about three centuries. Extensive graffiti in one of the cells left by prisoners from about 1745 to 1854. archives related to the activity of the tribunal based in Narni were part of the collection stolen by Napoleon Bonaparte from the Vatican and related to Paris; when the collection was possible to be returned, Vatican authorities at the time sought to preserve only a handful of the Inquisitions records (such as the trial of the Templars) and let the rest to be recycled. One box found its way to Trinity College, Dublin, including some from the Narni tribunal.

Certainly, worth the day trip from Rome!


View of Narni from Rocca Albornozania, complete with trebuchet and battering ram

*Apparently at least a couple other places also claim to be at the geographic center of Italy. The Italian Military Geographic Institute does not endorse any of them, as “”the (Italian) boot is not a geometric design and therefore it is impossible to determine the exact position of the centre of Italy”


Married Priests? “Viri probati” and other challenges.

Yesterday, Crux and others shared news that Pope Francis, in an interview with the German newspaper Die Zeit, had indicated openness to ordaining married men in the Latin Church. It is not the first time. Twenty, thirty years ago, one could safely bet that the world’s bishops supported the idea, but it was the pope who was opposed; now it seems to be the other way around.

However, as you read the comments available from today’s article (so far, only portions of the interview are available) it does not sound all that “open” after all. There are some serious red flags already flying. At first glance, fully anticipating more clarity from the full interview, I have three questions:

  • Who are these “viri probati”?
  • What would be the effect on the diaconate?
  • Why would “isolated communities” be better for married priests, or, why would it be difficult to “find what to do with them”?

Who are these “viri probati”?

Viri probati is a red herring. Not that I have anything against the ordination of “proven men”, of course. However, all the ordained, not just the married ordained, should be “proven” or “tested” before ordination. To raise this ambiguous phrase exclusively in the discussion of ordaining married men, either to the diaconate or the presbyterate in the Latin Church, is potentially distracting from more serious issues.

The standard should be the same for married and celibate men, in terms of formation and education, character and ability. It is unethical and unnecessary to set a higher bar for married clergy than for celibate clergy – or for that matter, to set a higher age limit.

Who is “proven”? This phrase floats around with virtually no formal definition or context. If the practice of the diaconate is any indication, many bishops seem to think that it means retired volunteers without formal ministry formation or experience. That the “proof” is in a life of being a happily married faithful Catholic in a secular vocation. This is good, but it is insufficient, and better “proof” of being an active lay person in the Church than an ordained minister.

If we are to turn to “proven men” we must think of the same people that the Council Fathers thought of as “already exercising diaconal ministry” (AG 16) as the first candidates for ordination to the diaconate. We ought to consider those men “already exercising presbyteral ministry” as candidates for the presbyterate.

Look first to the lay ecclesial ministers, catechists, chaplains, pastoral workers, lay theologians who have committed their lives in service to the Church, whose vocation is already clearly ecclesial, rather than secular. They have already given years to the education, formation, and experience we want in our priests and deacons. Most often, they have done so at considerable expense and sacrifice to themselves and their families – usually, tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth, compared to “traditional” seminarians, who have been sponsored by the diocese throughout formation. These are your “proven men”.

What of the effect on the diaconate?

Because of the accidents of history and the slow, and often piecemeal, approach to reform and development in the Church, there can be no doubt that several men called to be presbyters have been ordained deacons because, and often for no other reason than, they are married. Similarly, there are men in the presbyterate who really ought to be deacons, but as celibates, were pressured into the presbyterate.

I have long been convinced that we need more married presbyters and more celibate deacons. It is an error to believe that celibacy defines the presbyterate or marriage the diaconate. In their ancient roots, if anything, the reverse was more likely to be true. One’s vocation to ministry, and one’s vocation to relationship, are two distinct questions.

Whenever discussion turns to the topic of restoring the discipline of a married clergy in the Latin Church, I envision disaster for the diaconate, if it is handled badly. We are only part-way through the process of restoring the diaconate as a proper order of ministry, full and equal to the presbyterate, of a lower “rank” than the bishop.

As long as we still have transitional deacons, and the question of women in the diaconate is unsettled, we have not yet completed this process. As long as people still define the diaconate more sociologically – as a band-aid solution for a lack of priests, as a retiree’s volunteer ministry, as the holding place for married clergy – rather than a vocation and ecclesiologically essential order in and of itself, we are still a work in progress on the diaconate. Simply waking up tomorrow to a a married presbyterate would lead to an exodus from one order to the other without the balance going the other way.

Though, perhaps this should be encouraged – a discernment of orders without the distraction of the celibacy/marriage dichotomy. Say, a ten year open period where anyone previously ordained to one order could ‘relocate’ to the other, if it fit more their calling.

This would necessitate making clear what belongs to the deacon as the first assistants to the bishop: the diocesan curia, the deaneries, the diplomatic and ecumenical work, responsibility for personnel and finance, assisting in the governance of the church. The presbyterate is primarily an advisory group to the bishop, the local church’s ‘council of elders’. In short, deacons extend the bishop’s ministry (diakonia), as the presbyter extends the bishop’s priesthood, as cultic leader and presider at Eucharist.

Related to this is the age of ordination. Canon law currently suggests that celibate candidates can be ordained at 25 while married candidates at 35 (CIC §1031). Recent discussion on raising the minimum age of presbyteral ordination to 27 have been entirely too modest. This double standard should end – a single, common minimum age for both orders and both states of life. All candidates, whether married or celibate, for deacon or priest, should be at least 35 years of age.

As a seminary professor in Rome for the last few years, and from several years of working on lay ecclesial and diaconal formation, I have come to know a variety of candidates for ministry. In my experience, there is really no such thing as a “late” vocation, but I have witnessed many premature ordinations.

Many of these prematurely ordained presbyters end up leaving, and/or doing great damage to the local church, not having been “proven” in any real way. This older minimum age would allow a testing period as lay ecclesial ministers, and/or in a secular vocation. I do not think anyone should be ordained who has not put in at least five years of pastoral ministry in some context. It would also allow for discernment between vocation to each order in its own right and on its own merit, questions of marriage/celibacy aside.

Isolated communities? Really?

It is not clear if this is a response to a question, or part of a larger comment. But it raises the spectre of a kind of ‘clericalism within clericalism’. What possible reason is there for restricting the ministry of married clergy other than an elitism of the celibates?

I can think of two good ones:

1) that more stable positions (such as parish pastor) would be a better fit to married clergy than more itinerant positions (such as missionary or diplomat) which might better suit a celibate. Many of the former are more presbyteral, as well, while the later tend to be diaconal, which is worth considering.

2) In those areas where persecution is a real threat – and here I think danger of a martyr’s death – there is perhaps more freedom in a celibate clergy. But this is not the case in many parts of the world.

Perhaps in some communities or cultures a transition period will be necessary. I remember meeting a Filipino priest here in Rome who had never heard of the Eastern Catholic Churches, and had no idea there were married Catholic priests anywhere in the communion. He assumed all such were Anglican or Protestant. Or an American who was shocked at seeing her parish deacon, still vested, give his wife a chaste kiss after mass. These things have to be normalized, with charity and intentionality. That can take a little time, but not really that much.

There is no reason to suggest that married clergy would only be useful in “isolated communities” but it is not clear yet if that is entirely what the Holy Father said or meant. He could have meant that this is one obvious example of need – in many parts of the world the Eucharist is not a daily or weekly liturgy, but monthly or quarterly, for no other reason than a shortage of presbyters. In such ‘isolated communities’ more priests, married or celibate, would be a great service to the local church.

In most cases, there is no compelling reason to make such a distinction, between how and where a celibate or married priest might serve, and no burden or barrier should be placed without grave reason (cf. Acts 15:28).

In closing….

Finally, two other possible considerations, as long as we are rethinking the discipline of our ordained ministers.

First, the Latin Church does not share the Eastern tradition of restricting the episcopate to the monastic (and therefore celibate) clergy. While there is wisdom in this discipline, there is also wisdom in the Western tradition of married bishops, who are called from, and in service to, the diocesan churches. Perhaps that is for later consideration, but we must face these questions with a full awareness of our own tradition.

Second, since Nicaea, the Catholic/Orthodox Church has allowed ordination of married men but not marriage of ordained men. Yet there are apostolic churches that allowed marriage after ordination (e.g., The Assyrian Church of the East). This is also the almost universal practice of the other churches and ecclesial communities of the Western tradition.

At the time this disciplinary compromise was reached, the normal age for marriage was as early as 12-14. Ordination might come a decade later, and life expectancy for those who had lived long enough to get married was about 45. It was obvious that questions of marriage would be settled before questions of ministry.

Today, the reverse is true. In many contemporary cultures, one is expected to have completed education and established a career before entering into marriage. Following the logic that gave us the ancient discipline, it would almost make more sense today to forbid marriage before ordination! At least, we should reconsider this ancient discipline in light of the same sociological factors that inspired it.

All of these questions need to be considered for their ecumenical impact, too, and the wisdom of experience from both East and West should be part of our discernment in revisiting these ancient disciplinary questions.

If nothing else, we can be grateful for a bishop of Rome willing to entertain the question, no matter the result.

Women Deacons in Africa; Not in America

Public Orthodoxy

by Carrie Frederick Frost


History was made on February 17, 2017 when five women were consecrated deaconesses in the Orthodox Church. For many of us, this is a welcome but shocking development.

Speaking for myself, I expected the reintroduction of a female diaconate to occur in Greece, or elsewhere in Europe, or, even more likely, the United States; say, Pittsburgh. These are the places with multiple advocacy groups and a robust academic investigation into the history and pastoral function of the female diaconate.

Frankly, I anticipated—in a most unexamined way—the first Orthodox deaconess of our era would be white woman. (Let me pause and be clear, lest my readers be distracted: even though I am a white American woman advocating for the female diaconate, I have neither call nor desire to serve in this way.)

I now know that I suffered a serious failure of imagination.

The historic consecration of…

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Challenges for Restoring the Byzantine Female Diaconate for Present Times

Public Orthodoxy

by Ashley Purpura

Pope Francis’s recent call for a commission to explore the possibility of reinstating the female diaconate in the Catholic Church resonates with over a century of similar calls among leaders and laity of the Orthodox Church. These calls for restoring the female diaconate within the Eastern Orthodox Church have been supported by prominent theologians and hierarchs. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I even stated in 1995 that, “There is no canonical difficulty in ordaining women as deacons in the Orthodox Church,” and in 1997, that the “order of ordained deaconesses is an undeniable part of tradition” and that “there are already a number of women who appear to be called to this ministry.”

Despite hierarchical endorsement, consensus of various international conferences, intermittent examples of elevating nuns to the rank of deacon over the past century, and attempts to form centers for training female candidates for the diaconate, no successful…

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Shared Ministry and Divine Grace: Restoring the Diaconate in Orthodoxy

Public Orthodoxy

by Rev. Dr. Nicholas Denysenko


The Orthodox world is buzzing with the recent news report on the ordination of deaconesses in the Patriarchate of Alexandria. To the best of our knowledge, the ordination occurred after the Divine Liturgy in the nave of the temple, and appears to resemble the rite used to ordain subdeacons. This rite includes the presentation of the orarion, handlaying, a prayer, and the washing of the bishop’s hands. The reports do not offer details on the prayer said by the Patriarch. It seems that the Patriarch did not use the Byzantine Rite for the ordination of a deaconess, which takes place at the end of the anaphora (before the deacon intones the litany before the Lord’s Prayer, “Having remembered all the saints”), in the altar, and includes the deaconesses receiving Communion with the other clergy in the altar, according to order. While Patriarch Theodoros II appeared…

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Interview on “Thinking with the Church”, Part II

This is Vocaris Media, and you are listening to Thinking with the Church. In this edition: the second part of a conversation with a man who has dedicated his life to studying, praying, and working to achieve Christian unity.

Andrew J. Boyd – “A.J.” to his friends – is Adjunct Professor of Theology in the Rome program of the Catholic University of America, as well as in the Rome programs of Providence College and Assumption College.


In the first part of our conversation, we talked about the evolution – so to speak – of the modern ecumenical movement: the prayerful, patient, painstaking search for full, visible unity in doctrine, life, and worship, of all Christ’s faithful.

This search for unity arises out of Christ’s own high priestly prayer at the Last Supper, when Jesus prayed:

Father, the hour is come, glorify thy Son, that thy Son may glorify thee. As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he may give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him. Now this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth; I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now glorify thou me, O Father, with thyself, with the glory which I had, before the world was, with thee.

I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou hast given me out of the world. Thine they were, and to me thou gavest them; and they have kept thy word. Now they have known, that all things which thou hast given me, are from thee: Because the words which thou gavest me, I have given to them; and they have received them, and have known in very deed that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me. I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them whom thou hast given me: because they are thine: And all my things are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.

And now I am not in the world, and these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name whom thou has given me; that they may be one, as we also are. While I was with them, I kept them in thy name. Those whom thou gavest me have I kept; and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition, that the scripture may be fulfilled. And now I come to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy filled in themselves. I have given them thy word, and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world; as I also am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from evil.

They are not of the world, as I also am not of the world. Sanctify them in truth. Thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for them do I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. And not for them only do I pray, but for them also who through their word shall believe in me;

That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou hast given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, as we also are one: I in them, and thou in me; that they may be made perfect in one: and the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast also loved me. Father, I will that where I am, they also whom thou hast given me may be with me; that they may see my glory which thou hast given me, because thou hast loved me before the creation of the world. Just Father, the world hath not known thee; but I have known thee: and these have known that thou hast sent me.

And I have made known thy name to them, and will make it known; that the love wherewith thou hast loved me, may be in them, and I in them. – Holy Gospel according to St. John, Ch 17

That desire, which comes from Christ Our Lord in the climactic moment of His earthly ministry – at the institution of the Eucharist – is not therefore an adjunct, nor is it an ancillary element of the Faith: it is of the essence.

Toward the end of Part 1, I said something about the surprise I experienced when I first began to encounter Christians of different confessions and discovered how fervently they believe in the so-called “four marks” of the Church: Oneness, Holiness, Catholicity, and Apostolicity.

This week, in the second part of our conversation, A.J. and I explore some of the concrete possibilities for achieving a further and substantial measure of unity, especially as regards the Lutheran community.

We also address what Pope Francis has called, “the ecumenism of blood”: the unity of Christians in suffering and dying for faith in Jesus Christ – and our duty to make the most of the opportunities they have won for us by their heroic witness.

It happens that the second anniversary of one of the most starkly brutal episodes of Christian martyrdom in the early years of the 21st century fell just a few days ago – right in the middle of the week between the two editions presenting our conversation with Prof. Boyd.

I refer to the murder of 21 Coptic Orthodox Christians in Libya (I say 22 in the recording), a video recording of which traveled around the world.

Pope Francis condemned the act as soon as he heard of it.

On February 16th – the day after the video emerged – in remarks during a scheduled meeting with an ecumenical delegation from the Church of Scotland, the Holy Father departed from his prepared text to say, in his native Spanish:

I read about the execution of those twenty-one or twenty-two Coptic Christians. Their only words were: “Jesus, help me!”. They were killed simply for the fact that they were Christians. You, my brother, in your words referred to what is happening in the land of Jesus. The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard. It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ. As we recall these brothers who died only because they confessed Christ, I ask that we encourage each another to go forward with this ecumenism which is giving us strength, the ecumenism of blood. The martyrs belong to all Christians.

The spokesman for the Coptic Catholic Church, Fr. Rafic Greiche, gave an interview to Vatican Radio in which Fr. Greiche spoke of the early reception of the martyrdom of these men, whom he described as, “very poor people, but very near to God,” men who, “were not theologians, they were not people who even read the Bible or can read…but [had] the faith, and were brave.”

One of the martyred men was a convert – a man who received a baptism of blood – who came from Chad, and, seeing the faithful courage of his fellows, desired to be counted among their number on earth and in heaven. “He found his faith when he saw the [faith] of the other Egyptian Christians, he didn’t want to leave,” Fr. Greiche told Vatican Radio. “He wanted to be a martyr like them.”

21 Martys of Libya – icon by Tony Rezk


The reason I bring all this up – aside from the obvious and already mentioned 2ndanniversary of their martyrdom this past week – is to emphasize the urgency of the ecumenical project: an urgency palpable in A.J.’s remarks as he begins this segment, discussing a different specific area of ecumenical effort, namely, the work that Catholics and Lutherans have been doing together – work that has some surprising elements of “out-of-the-box” thinking.

That was A.J. Boyd, Adjunct Professor of Theology in the Rome Program of the Catholic University of America.

You can find Part 1 of our conversation in Episode 6 of Thinking with the Church.


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