All right, so I will now get back to more edifying business. I have given everyone more than a piece of my mind on the question of the election, as have also some of you who have commented here.
I apologize for my snarkiness. My desire was to defend a pro-life woman who was being trashed all over the place. I got carried away and I am duly rebuked by the lady, though I really don’t know what her point is about Ben Stein’s movie.
It was “beautiful and moving” and “full of poetry”, Dr Frale said, but “incredibly has never been studied”. The prayer is addressed to “Holy Mary, mother of God”, the “consolation of those who hope”, and “humbly implores” her to obtain freedom for the order “through the intercession of the angels, archangels, prophets, evangelists, apostles, martyrs, confessors and virgins”. It adds that the Virgin Mary knows that “our enemies” have spread “calumnies and lies” about the order, and pleads with her to make them “return to truth and charity”.
In their rite of profession, the Knights Templar formulated their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in terms of solemn promises made to “God and St. Mary,” so it is no wonder that the they would have turned to Mary in their dire circumstances, invoking Her as the “consolation of those who hope,” and having confident recourse to Her for deliverance.
In fact this spontaneous confidence in the power of Mary to overcome evil has always been the intuition of Christians. I would like to share a little reflection on the ancient devotion to Mary and the development of chivalry in the context of another prayer found on a manuscript that had been hidden in obscurity for many years.
An Epyptian Papyrus and a Latin Prayer
The oldest prayer to Mary known to us was found on a third century papyrus fragment from Egypt. The prayer, written in Greek, is very similar to a prayer that has been used in the Byzantine liturgy and which has been roughly translated into Latin and used in the Roman rite for centuries. I give here the traditional English rendition of the Latin translation, referred to by the first three words, Sub Tuum Praesidium:
We fly to thy patronage,
O holy Mother of God;
despise not our petitions in our necessities,
but deliver us always from all dangers,
O glorious and blessed Virgin.
This sounds like a prayer that the Templars might have written, bounded on all sides as they were by enemies. Yet, it was written long before the Templars called on Our Lady for help, during the Roman persecutions of the early Church.
The papyrus fragment on which this prayer was written became the object of research in the earlier part of the twentieth century. In 1917 the fragment which had earlier been found in Egypt became a part of the papyri collection of the John Rylands Library in Manchester, England. In 1939 the contents of the prayer were published and thereafter much scholarly commentary followed.
One interesting fact to consider is the dispute over the papyrus’ dating. One scholar who studied the prayer, M.C.H. Roberts, disregarded another scholar’s dating of the fragment to the third century because he thought it “almost incredible that a prayer addressed so directly to the Virgin in these terms could be written in the third century.” On the other hand, “G. Giamberardini, specialist in early Egyptian Christianity, maintaine[d] that there was no reason, literary or theological, why the papyrus should not be put back to the third century.”
Theotokos and Mediation
The reason for the dispute hinges on the use of the title Theotokos (Mother of God, or God Bearer) in the prayer. The dogma of the Divine Maternity or the title Theotokos was not formally defined until the Council of Ephesus in 431, that is, well into the fifth century. In spite of the fact that the physical evidence made it clear that the prayer had been written in the third century, historians and theologians found it remarkable that the Christians of Egypt would have been invoking Our Lady under the title “Mother of God” that early.
Yet not only does the evidence concerning the dating of this prayer indicate that the early use of the titleis a fact, but the theology of the prayer is even more advance than what that title implies. This prayer expresses the early Christians’ spontaneous recourse to Our Lady and the conviction that she is powerful with God, clearly demonstrating that they understood the patronage and intercession of the Blessed Virgin. Many people believe that the idea of Our Lady’s intercession and Mediation was a Catholic invention of the Middle Ages. So much for that theory.
But what I am specifically interested in underscoring is the militant and chivalrous character of this most ancient prayer. Scholars surmise that if this prayer was composed by the Christians of Egypt in the third century, then it was very likely written by someone in the midst of a persecution which threatened not only the free practice of Christianity but the very lives of those who practiced it. In fact, in the third century the Christians of Egypt were suffering under the persecutions of the Roman Emperors Septimius Severus (193-211), and Decius (249-251).
Thus the prayer indicates that the Christians of Egypt were suffering persecution and that their spontaneous reaction was to turn explicitly to Our Lady. But even more interesting is the precise way in which they expressed themselves to Her in these circumstances.
The prayer begins: We fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God. . . In order to fully appreciate the meaning of this phrase, both in terms of the origin of the prayer and its use throughout ecclesiastical history, I want to look more closely at the word englished here as “patronage.”
The original Greek from the papyrus is eusplanqkhia. This word is generally translated as “mercy,” but, according to a study by Mother Maria Francesca Perillo, is more accurately translated as “maternal heart,” or “womb.” This being the case, the first line of the prayer may be rendered: We take refuge in your womb. In the Byzantine Rite liturgy eusplanqkhia has been translated as “mercy,” and in the Roman Rite antiphon as “protection.” Both translations capture part, but not the whole sense, of what is connoted by “maternal heart” or “womb” (“Sub Tuum Praesidium: Incomparable Marian Praeconium,” Mary at the Foot of the Cross: Mater Viventium. New Bedford: Academy of the Immaculate, 2003. 150-151, 168).
Protection and Patronage
What I find interesting is how this expression of Marian maximalism, namely, the spontaneous recourse to Mary’s maternal care, as though Her very womb were a refuge, manages to creep into Latin as praesidium (protection) and into English as patronage.
Praesidium can be literally translated as “protection,” but it also has several specialized military senses, the first, that “of soldiers who are to serve as a guard, garrison, escort, or convoy,” and the second, that of “any place occupied by troops, as a hill, a camp, etc.; a post, station, entrenchment, fortification, camp.” So the comforting “womb” of the Greek, in Latin becomes a bastion of protection in a hostile world. The two are complementary, but the medieval Latin reflects a more militant attitude.
But how does praesidium become “patronage” when it is translated into English? The modern use of the word “patronage” does not explicitly include the notion of “protection,” though it certainly includes the idea of “support,” especially financial support. I have not been able to discover when the prayer was translated into English, so it is impossible for me to estimate what might have influenced the translator to choose this word. Nevertheless it seems significant that the medieval form of what today we call consecration to Mary took the form of the patrocinium or “patronage.”
The Patronage of Our Lady
For a description of the patrocinium I turn to Monsignor Arthur Burton Calkins and his treatment of the historical development consecration to Mary:
In the feudal setting of the early Middle Ages we find the custom of “patronage” (patrocinium) becoming widespread. In order to protect their lives and possessions, freemen would vow themselves to the service of their overlords; in exchange for the assurance of protection and the necessities of life, the client would place himself completely at the disposal of his protector (“Marian Consecration and Entrustment,” Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons. Goleta: Seat of Wisdom Books, 2007. 732-33).
This notion was easily translated into devotional practice with respect to Mary. Monsignor Calkins shows the parallel between the secular and the sacred practice of the patronage by comparing the secular practice to a prayer of Fulbert of Chartres (+1028). In the secular custom of patronage, the vassal would place his hands in those of his master and promise him honor and obedience. Included here are the ideas of “handing oneself over” (tradere) and commending oneself (commendare). Here is the prayer of St. Fulbert:
Remember, O Lady, that in baptism I was consecrated to the Lord and professed the Christian name with my lips. Unfortunately I have not observed what I have promised. Nether less I have been handed over [traditus] to you and committed to your care [commendatus] by the Lord, the living and true God. Watch over the one who has been handed over to you [traditum]; keep safe the one who has been committed to your protection [commendatum].
Now while the patrocinium was not a form of knighthood one can see how in the feudal system both patronage and knighthood would develop from the same notions of protection and service. In the order of knighthood, when the vassal pledged his service he was ennobled by the lord who received his vow, and the specific form of service he rendered to the lord was that of the soldier.
A Prayerful and Chivalrous Tradition
So when we consider the whole linguistic tradition of the Sub Tuum Praesidium, we recognize that Christians have always had recourse to the maternal protection of Our Lady as though Her maternal heart or womb is an impregnable fortress. She is the Tower of David, the Praesidium in this vale of tears and conflict. We fly to Her “patronage,” that is we hand ourselves over to Her, and commend ourselves to Her protection.
For the Egyptian Christians of third century, the maternal heart and patronage of the Blessed Virgin was a protection against a raging persecution. Christians were a growing but marginal presence in a pagan world and were practically unable to protect themselves from the ire of the Roman Empire. They needed to find refuge in the protection of Our Lady’s maternal heart.
For the Christians of the Middle Ages, the Sub Tuum Praesidium and other expressions of the Marian patrocinium contributed to elevating Marian devotion to a more militant attitude, one that not only acknowledged our need for protection, but the need of men to fight back against the onslaughts of hell. The ascendancy of Christendom allowed the West a more missionary and militant perspective, while the threat of advancing Islam consolidated the order of knighthood into an effective means of translating religious fervor into action.
In the fourteenth century The Knights Templar found themselves hemmed in on every side, so they turned to Our Lady to whom they had pronounced their vows. It was in their final straights that their prayer became that of the persecuted, until then they had been Our Lady’s warriors for the faith.
Today in the Knights of Lepanto it is our task to recapture a manly appreciation for the danger in which we find ourselves and have childlike recourse to the Blessed Virgin, but we must also translate a prayerful spirit of humility into confident action on behalf of Our Queen who, in the words of St. Maximilian Kolbe, wishes to use us as Her heal to crush the head of our ancient enemy.
This is a long standing tradition. In this present age, we have an opportunity to bring it to a new perfection. Never has this been more necessary than it is now.