Callista: A Tale of the Third Century, by John Henry Cardinal Newman

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First published in 1855, Newman’s novel remains fresh. Its foundation is a comparison of hereditary Christians to converts and those who seek happiness in the comforts of the material world to those who can be satisfied only by union with God.

Newman warmly and vividly details a story of death and new life in and about the Roman colony of Sicca Veneria in North Africa, circa 250 AD. As tour guide, he portrays the delicate shades of fields ripe with grain, rose gardens, vineyards, olive groves and orchards set against “the fantastic forms of the Numidian Mountains.” He escorts his readers through the hidden door to the wonderfully cool catacombs to share in the liturgy. He and his readers shop the market stalls of the forum. As barrister, he details the legalistic implications of the multiple forms of Roman marriage and then explains the process of the provincial courts along with their dreadful incarceration pits and their means of torture and execution. Mercifully, Newman also offers a peep at the beatific vision. The Cardinal adds a touch of the authenticity with the frequent use of contemporary Latin phrases, such as the infamous: “Christianos ad leones!” (Christians to the lions.)

As the story begins, the Christians had not seen a major persecution in fifty years. Worshipers of the Roman and local gods had come to tolerate, and even marry Christians. Bishops, priests and deacons grew more concerned with their business interests than their flocks. Their sheep strayed as they cooled in spiritual ardor. Christianity drifted toward extinction, as many idol worshippers hoped. Some thought a persecution would finish them off. Others remembered that previous persecutions had actually won converts to Christianity.

Then Rome celebrated its millennium with spectacles and sacrifices to honor the very gods that made Rome the ruler of the world. Decius, the emperor, decreed that the entire world should congratulate Rome through the worship of Jove and swear by the genius of the emperor. Decius promised that atheists (i. e. Christians) who refused to so swear would suffer a painful death. The onset of a persecution drew near.

In Sicca, the avuncular Jucundus, an innovative, prosperous but aging purveyor of idols, lived only for the moment with no thought to the hereafter. Unfortunately, his aspirations for a glorious legacy depended upon his nephews, Agellius and Juba. Agellius, widely known as a baptized Christian, avoided contact with the residents of Sicca, especially during their religious celebrations. Juba, his brother, would bend his knee neither to god nor man. His unpredictable behavior annoyed his uncle as much as did the stubbornness of Agellius.

Jucundus desperately hoped that Agellius might forsake Christianity if he married Callista, an artisan in his employ. Jucundus suggested to Callista’s brother, Aristo, that he urge her to accept Agellius. Aristo advised his sister: “I say he’s a fellow too well off to be despised as a lover.” Agellius needed no urging to approach Callista. Knowing that she admired Christianity he hoped this predisposition would lead her to accept him and that she would convert to the worship of the true God. Instead, Callista responded, “You have stood in the way of Him, ready to speak for yourself, using Him as a means to an end.”

Callista remembered Chione, a slave and a Christian who “spoke as if a Christian’s first thoughts were good will toward others; as if his state were of such blessedness, that his dearest heart’s wish was to bring others into it.” Callista has seen no such blessedness in Agellius. Chione had cared for nothing, Agellius wanted Callista for himself. Shortly before her death, Chione dreamed of a beautiful Lady who pledged to lead Chione to her Son, Jesus. Chione died joyfully, freed of her slavery and the bonds of earth as the Lady welcomed her into the beatific vision. Callista thought Agellius a cold Christian more interested in laws and restrictions. If anything he damaged what faith Callista still had.

On this low note the real troubles begin. Newman spares no detail in his descriptions of a locust plague, famine, riots; the brutal murder of Christians by the mob; the Roman legion’s methods of crowd control, as well as Callista’s arrest as a suspected Christian. She denied that she was a Christian, but refused to offer incense to Jove or swear by the genius of the emperor. Jucundus and Aristo used their influence to postpone Callista’s execution. They claimed that she must be out of her mind. The respite allowed a visit from a mysterious stranger.

Caecilius, a Christian priest had met Callista shortly before her capture. Their conversation stoked the embers of her faith. He trusted her with a scroll: The Gospel According to Saint Luke. Callista paid it no heed until her imprisonment. By the time Caecilius visited Callista in her cell, she was a Christian in all but baptism. Caecilius baptized her, conferred confirmation and fed her with the Eucharist. Before her ordeal, she dreamed of the radiant face of Chione. It gradually morphed into the visage of the Lady that had welcomed Chione and then changed again into that of her Son. Callista had found the love and meaning she sought all her life. She too, would soon enjoy freedom.

As Newman relates through his story, materialism twists the ethics of those who see nothing beyond this life. They might otherwise seek Christ but instead, freely reject the foolishness of Christianity because they know too many cold Christians rather than the likes of Chione and the new Callista. I highly recommend this book to all who seek to deepen their faith so that they may more freely articulate the true joy of Christianity to others.

You may find “Callista” at:

 

 http://www.newmanreader.org/works/callista/index.html.

(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)

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About this page….

Thank you for visiting and sharing your comments. I’d also appreciate your advice on improving this relatively new page.

My name is Don Mulcare. I’m on permanent vacation (retired) after doing 35 to life in a state institution (The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth as a professor of biology.)

Retirement is a chance to do something else, especially the things that could not happen while working full time. The vegetable garden has fewer weeds and more vegetables. The compost heap runs hot and heavy. Travel is more practical and writing can change from occasional articles, lab handouts and letters of recommendation to fiction, book reviews and comments on travels.

Life is an adventure. That includes broken arms and making mistakes. It is better to learn from the adventure than dwell on the downside.

God Bless!

Quebec City, May, 2013

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The expanse of water in the foreground represents the width of the north-eastern segment of Saint Lawrence River between Quebec City and the Atlantic. The Saint Lawrence River narrows as shown in the mid-left section of the photo. The narrowing or “kebec” in the language of Native American inhabitants of the area became Quebec in the language of the French settlers. To the right of the narrowing rises the modern Quebec City.  The city of Levis stands to the left. This narrow point in the Saint Lawrence Valley with its steep, high walls, gave Quebec a strategic advantage, one worth fighting for.

The following photos scan Quebec City from the decks of the Holland-America Cruise Ship Veendam when it docked on the north side of the Saint Lawrence River in early May, 2013. The point of view moves from right (north-east) to left (south-west) beginning with the massive, sprawling seminary building, bedecked with spires and a white flag marked with three red crosses. Its construction began in 1663 under the guidance of Bishop de Laval. It served as a residence and training facility for Roman Catholic priests. Later, the seminary gave rise to Laval University.

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Between the seminary and the parking lot you see the Museum of Civilization located on Rue Dalhousie. It’s modern, angular architecture both blends and contrasts with the seminary on the heights above it.

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The yellow, three story building (Panache) resembles similar waterfront structures in New Bedford, Massachusetts, once used for storage. The shops along this section of Rue Dalhousie offer a variety of architectural styles.

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A replica of a portion of the French colonial shore defenses stands further to the south-west along Rue Dalhousie. Behind it, you see a diverse array of buildings, a band of trees and then, higher up, a portion of the city wall. On top of that barrier stood the main defensive batteries. The massive Chateau Frontenac currently sits on the site of the original French fort. The Chateau will appear in later views.

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The modern stairs like these were not available when the British army attacked Quebec. The sheer cliffs blocked the infantry until they found a way around the seemingly impregnable defenses.

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The extreme, upper right side of this picture shows the edge of the Chateau Frontenac, once the site of the main French fort. A flag pole and a park mark the upper left edge of the picture. That site was known as the Plains of Abraham, the battlefield where British General Wolfe defeated French General Montcalm. Both men died in that battle. As a consequence, Quebec became part of British Canada.

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The opportunity to snap the following series of land-based photos came with a bus tour of Quebec City in May of 2013. Here is a small portion of the Plains of Abraham, now called The Battlefields Park. It serves as an extensive, year-round recreational area and war memorial.

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A similar statue of Saint Joan of Arc, here located on the Plains of Abraham may be found in Central Park, New York. Pierre, the excellent tour guide commissioned by Holland-America explained that the same anonymous donor had installed these statues here and elsewhere.

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 Not far from the statue of Saint Joan of Arc, this plaque commemorates the exact spot of another historic event in Canadian history.

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The next series, a mixture of ship and land based photos follows from left (south-west) to right (north-east) along the top of the ridge over the Saint Laurence River. The Plains of Abraham rests just to the left, outside the scope of the photo.  Observe the huge hotel, the Chateau Frontenac (center), the Ministry of Finance building (to the right) and the Postal Building (on the right edge of the picture). Look for each building in later views.

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The Chateau Frontenac as seen from the deck of the Veendam, appears with a popular means of reaching it, the Funicularie du vieux-Quebec, a glass-enclosed, elevator-railroad-lift that climbs the slope to the Chateau. The Funicularie runs behind the church steeple in the lower right portion of the photo.

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The Chateau’s courtyard contains archeological excavations that show tourist portions of the original French fortifications.

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Just down the street, to the north-east of the Chateau you’ll find the Ministry of Finance building.

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The next two photos show details of the Ministry of Finance building.

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Further to the north-east the Canadian flag waves above the domed Postal Building.

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Slightly north of the Chateau’s courtyard stands this tourist information-center-war-museum building flying the blue and white, Quebec Provincial flag. Note the tour bus that brought us.

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Perhaps the building just left of the tourist information center is the inspiration for the “Red Roof Inn?” The Auberge Du Tresor, seen behind the monument, bears the inscription “1640 Restaurant.”

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As we sailed out of Quebec, into the wider portion of the Saint Lawrence River, we enjoyed the stretch of mountains to north-east.

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Only a few miles out of Quebec City, along the north shore of the Saint Lawrence, look for the Montmorency waterfall. Taller than Niagara Falls, it marks the spot where General Montcalm defeated General Wolfe in an early encounter.

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Additional information for this blog came from the Google satellite photos of Quebec City. Google names streets and allows the observer to get close enough to buildings to read plaques and titles. Google shares millions of Quebec City’s wonderful details. It’s worth a look.

The Monument

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In the distance ahead, a statue loomed amid the park benches and the ubiquitous, tame, mendicant, municipal pigeons.

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From the looks of it I judged: “This bronze must honor a politician. Who else would have the supreme confidence to strut his stuff like this?” As a visitor, ignorant of local celebrities, I ventured, he’s probably a former Mayor of Halifax, perhaps a Premier. Soon enough, I could see his familiar face, grand, determined; untroubled by the rain. He had weathered many a storm in his day. We remember him still.

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