Voices ever ancient, ever new. Saturday-Week31-2013. The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica.

“He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money-changers seated there.” (John 2:14)

Saint Augustine of Hippo comments on this verse from today’s Gospel:

“Nevertheless, in order to seek the mystery of the deed in the figurative meaning, who are they who sell the oxen? Who are they who sell the sheep and doves? They are those who seek their own interests in the church rather than those of Jesus Christ. Those who have no desire for redemption have everything for sale. They do not want to be bought; they want to sell. Yet surely it is for their good that they be redeemed by the blood of Christ so that they may attain the peace of Christ. For what profit is there in acquiring anything temporal or transitory in this world — whether it be money, or gorging oneself on food or achieving high honors from your fellow human beings? Are not all things smoke and wind? Do not all things pass on in a moment? And woe to those who want to hang on to passing things, for they pass with them! ... My brothers, those who seek such things sell them. For Simon [Magus] too wanted to buy the Holy Spirit for that very reason — because he wanted to sell the Holy Spirit — and he thought that the apostles were the kind of merchants that the Lord drove out of the temple with a scourge. But he was the one who was actually such a merchant, wanting to buy what he might sell. He was of those who sell doves. For the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove. Therefore, brothers, who are those who sell doves — who are they except those who say, “We give the Holy Spirit”? Why do they say this and at what price do they sell? At the price of their own honor. They receive for a time bishops’ seats as their price, that they may seem to sell doves. Let them beware of the scourge of ropes. The dove is not for sale; it is given gratis, for it is called grace.” (Tractates on the Gospel of John, 10)

On this day in 324, lands and buildings that originally belonged to the Roman Laterani family were formally dedicated as the Cathedral Church of Rome by Pope Sylvester I. The during the reign of Emperor Nero, the Laterani family lost the property to the Emperor when a family member was accused of some unknown impropriety against Nero. From the the time of Nero to the early years of the fourth century, the ‘ownership history’ is somewhat sketchy as the property eventually passes to Constantine's wife, Fausta. What is clear is that with the Edict of Toleration, the Roman Empire's relationship with the Church changed dramatically. Not only were bishops appointed civil magistrates by the emperor, Constantine also began an aggressive 'renovation' project taking existing Roman buildings and permitting the bishops to use them for places of worship and ecclesiastical gatherings/meetings. New buildings were also constructed during this time and dedicated as Churches to signal the Church’s clear visible presence in the Empire. Robin Jensen notes that this ‘church building campaign’ “symbolized the beginning of Christianity’s transition from a minority community adapting what it had available and expressing itself in familiar terms, to a powerful, wealthy and dominant segment of the population, now able to determine the forms and styles by which it expressed its own cultural identity. The imposing scale and potential grandeur of the basilica design well suited the gradually more elaborate liturgy, even as it reflected the changed social and political status of the church and became a definitive and monumental symbol of the church’s new self-understanding and cultural integration (Christianity: Origins to Constantine, page 585).”

O God,
Who from living and chosen stones
prepare an eternal dwelling for Your majesty,
increase in your Church
the spirit of grace you have bestowed,
so that by new growth your faithful people
may build up the heavenly Jerusalem.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Glory to You Father, Son and Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning is now
and will be forever. Amen. Alleluia!