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Just as in St Agatha’s day, the persecutors of the Church want us to abandon our principles

The Roman martyr refused to worship the gods of the state

By on Monday, 4 February 2013

St Agatha

Tomorrow is the feast of Saint Agatha, Virgin and Martyr, which is an obligatory memorial here in England.

In Sicily the feast will be kept with great solemnity, and the city of Catania in particular will see the culmination of a month’s festivities. For those who read Italian, you can see a pdf of the programme for Sant Agata 2013 here. When in Catania last month I was told by several people, as I toured the sites associated with the saint, that the feast was the single biggest popular festival in the world (I wonder if this is true) and that I should make a point of being in Catania on 5th February. Sadly, that is not possible.

The website of Catania’s local government has more information about the festival here, again for those who read Italian. This is, please note, the website of the city of Catania; and the feast’s programme is a joint project of the city authorities and those of the archdiocese. No wall of separation between Church and State here!

Saint Agatha’s story is similar to that of many other Roman martyrs. She refused marriage to a noble Roman and refused to sacrifice to idols; despite her extreme youth, she was steadfast in the face of tortures, which included the severing of her breasts. All this happened around the year 251. Her name is related to the Greek word agathos, which means good, and this play on words is made much of in the sermon of St Methodius of Sicily, an extract from which forms the reading for her feast in the Office of Readings. Her cult spread widely in the early church, and she is a popular subject in art. She has been alive in heaven for almost two thousand years, and her name is still shouted in the streets of Catania every year, hundreds of churches and children are named out of her, and the words Viva Sant Agata are in lights above the city gate. As for the Roman Empire that persecuted her to death, that is history.

You would have thought that in the contest between a fragile girl and the mighty Roman Empire, that the might of Rome would have triumphed. In fact the steadfastness and courage of the young Christian must have infuriated her persecutors. One almost feels sorry for them. But Agatha remained true, and she remains so to this day. As for the Roman nobleman Quintianus who tormented her –

“The wicked man sees and is angry,
grinds his teeth and fades away;
the desire of the wicked leads to doom”
as Psalm 112 has it.

Saint Agatha, pray for us! And as for you current persecutors of the Church, who want to make us abandon our principles and sacrifice to your modern idols – beware!

  • JabbaPapa

    I don’t think that divine intervention is so black and white — God is not constrained to obey our methodologies.

  • JabbaPapa

    majorcalamity : Ah, another favourite diversionary Catholic tactic surfaces. The
    “Strawman” defence. Accuse your opponent of raising issues unconnected
    with the debate. That way you can avoid answering the questions and
    facing the issues.

    Are you really so naïve as to not realise that this is exactly how I’m describing your own “argument” in the first place ???

    Do you understand the meaning of the word “strawman” ???

  • Jonathan

    This resonates.  Materialism (and vanity) are among my greatest weakness.

  • scary goat

     Religious schools get Ofsteded too you know. (and mostly fare much better than their state counterparts.) Don’t you think  (secular in the true sense of the word) Govt. inspections are enough to ensure that “extremist views” are kept under control?  And I would hardly count teaching  marriage and family values and the idea that abortion is wrong as extremist.  On the other hand I would consider trying to shut down religious schools in an effort to “de-religionise” the country as extremist.

  • scary goat

    ” Who are you to regard these as “harmful ideas”?”

    A human being and a mother.

    “the only way to do that is to level the playing field and ensure each child gets the same information at school. ”

    I think “leveling the playing field” refers to disability etc.  I don’t think it was intended to be used for indoctrination into uniform views.

  • majorcalamity

    I used to own a school so am very familiar with Ofsted and it’s requirements. Certain aspects of the curriculum are not compulsory, so are not inspected as thoroughly. Schools are also very adept at showing two faces. However the big pressure comes from parents, who demand religious orthodoxy. I speak not only of the Catholic community, although you are no doubt aware of some battles between school heads and parents over the use of teaching materials the parents believe inappropriate. 

    My primary wish is to ensure that all children get the opportunity to evaluate all the arguments, and are not kept in a bubble being indoctrinated in one point of view. For me the place for the religious point of view is at home and in church, whilst school is the place for a mix of views to be examined. You might not consider teaching your own views as extremist, as I am sure neither does a devout Muslim who believes in jihad. If we need to insure against the latte,r then we need to establish a level playing field for all.

  • majorcalamity

    “Levelling the playing field” is precisely intended to avoid indoctrination into uniform views. Those views being solely Catholic views. The intention is to ensure that the full range of  views, without opt outs, gets aired at school and the religious view alone gets aired at home and in church. If your view is correct then the children will determine this for themselves. Surely it is better they receive this information in a structured way, rather than in bits and pieces on the street?

  • Clivecopus

    Do you not think that the specific, complex set of instructions that constitute the genetic code could have come into existence without some input from an intelligent agent? If not, how do you explain their origin?

    Do you believe that it is possible to ascribe any aspect of the created order to God’s creation, and, if so, which aspect?      

  • Clivecopus

    Sorry – I should have said ‘…could not have come into existence without some input…’

  • scary goat

    Reply to Majorcalamity:

    You used to own a school?  What sort of school?  And why don’t you still own it ?  If you don’t mind me asking.

  • JabbaPapa

    Do you believe that it is possible to ascribe any aspect of the created order to God’s creation, and, if so, which aspect?

    Reality itself.

    Consider transsubstantiation — whether you believe that it’s real or not is irrelevant to the point I want to make BTW — the transsubstantiation of the bread and wine into flesh and blood that retains EVERY superficial characteristic of bread and wine is a Mystery, that nobody can explain ; no more than the Incarnation of Our Lord can be explained, nor even our own incarnations as souls in our own flesh.

    Why should you then expect that ANY forms of divine intervention should be explainable in terms of answering questions beginning with “how” ?

    The Divine Action is, purely and simply, beyond our human capacities for understanding.

    The complexity of DNA or of any other form of complex reality is neither an argument nor counterargument in the question of God and His Action in and beyond this world.

  • Clivecopus

    I don’t think it’s a question of trying to explain how God (or, indeed, any intelligent agent) acts. The method or mechanism as such is not really what’s important. What does matter, however, is whether it is possible to point to a particular aspect of the world and identify it as the work of a creative intelligence. If the answer to that question is ‘yes’, it would provide powerful supporting evidence for the traditional Catholic view – reiterated in the Catechism - that we can come to some knowledge of God through creation; even if it’s only the knowledge that He exists.

    ID theory purports to provide that evidence, so Catholics should be taking its claims seriously – particularly at a time when we are under increasing pressue from militant atheists to provide a rational and scientific basis for our beliefs. 

    If, on the other hand, we simply throw our hands up and say that it’s all a mystery, beyond our understanding and irrelevant anyway, we are playing into the hands of those secularists who argue that all we have is blind faith, and can therefore be safely ignored/ridiculed. We are not fideists!       

  • scary goat

    Reply to majorcalamity:


    ” “Levelling the playing field” is precisely intended to avoid indoctrination into uniform views. ”

    No it isn’t.
    It’s to make sure that children with disabilities have a fair chance and are not disadvantaged by their disability as far as possible. 

  • JabbaPapa

    ID theory purports to provide that evidence, so Catholics should be taking its claims seriously – particularly at a time when we are under increasing pressue from militant atheists to provide a rational and scientific basis for our beliefs.

    If, on the other hand, we simply throw our hands up and say that it’s all a mystery

    This is a caricature of the philosophical questions that are involved here.

    What, are the ONLY alternatives **really** either that God has a finger in every pie, or that one should utterly surrender to the atheistic point of view ???!!!??

    In fact, there is NO need whatsoever to fall into the trap of either the Young Earth Creationists nor the militant atheists when they try and portray Science and Faith as somehow being antagonistic.

    An understanding of the laws governing the independent conduct of natural processes by the matter, energy, and fundamental forces engaged in those processes is NOT an understanding of metaphysics, spirituality, religion, faith, or God — but this does NOT magically create any kind of inherent antagonism between physics and metaphysics.

    Militant atheists expecting any rationally minded Catholic “to provide a rational and
    scientific basis for our beliefs” are asking us to provide them with a square circle.

    This sort of irrational request should be treated with derision and scorn. The basis of our beliefs is in fact divine Revelation and the transcendent reality of the supernatural divinity of Christ.

  • Clivecopus

    I don’t agree that militant atheists are being unfair when they ask us to provide a rational/scientific basis for our belief in a Creator. In fact, I think they’re being perfectly reasonable. And if, as we are so often told, there is no conflict between faith and reason, we shouldn’t be afraid to take up the challenge and explain why recent scientific discoveries are providing compelling evidence for the existence of a Creator.

    ID theory provides us with the tools to do precisely that. Its key insight is that the fundamental forces you describe cannot, by themselves, account for the coded information in the genome. By analogy, matter and energy on therir own could never account for the works of Shakespeare.    

    It is not the same thing as ‘Young Earth Creationism’ -  now that is a caricature! - not least because it says nothing about the age of the earth. It is simply an updated version of the old philosophical argument from design. And if that argument was good enough for Thomas Aquinas, it should be good enough for us!

    There is no conflict here with divine revelation – indeed, it complements it. But not everyone can accept divine revelation without first recognisng that we required a Creator, and we owe it to them to reassure them on this point.   

  • JabbaPapa

    OK fair enough — nice post !!!

  • Clivecopus