Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Pope Saint Sylvester

Sylvester died and was buried on 31 December 335, after being pope for over twenty years. During his pontificate two important events in the history of the Church occurred. The first, was the legalisation and official toleration.

His death came by natural means, this was still novel. Up till this time, not only, was the election, to the papacy, bishophric of Rome, a lifetime appointment, it was a death sentence. But, Constantine saw the cross, before the battle of Milvian bridge in 312, “In hoc signo vinces”, in the sky. Things had changed. Constantine defeated Maxentius. He and Licinius granted the Edict of Toleration at Milan, the next year. Constantine favored the formerly reviled religion, meddled in its affairs, but he awaited a death bed conversion in 337. Churches and worship became public and building projects began.

Little documentation has survived. Speculation does not end. Rubbish spouting a constantinian church replacing the Christian Church continues. The Church was catholic before, and catholic now. It was a new age for the church. In the next generation, Julian the Apostate, became emperor and the church was not favored. The relation between church and state has still not been permanently resolved.

The second was, the Council of Nicaea, which, took place in 325, in Asia Minor. Sylvester sent three delegates (Osius, Vitus and Vincentius) there, and certainly discussions were made afore time. Arianism was the chief and powerful heresy of the day. In these early centuries Rome was generally free from heresy, but the greek-speaking and african provinces were often rife.

In much of Europe, the last day of the year is known as Saint Sylvester’s. Traditionally in France, this night’s celebration is le Réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre, pop the champagne! In several countries a long foot race is held, the most celebrated one is São Paulo, Brasil’s, Corrida Internacional de São Silvestre. It began in 1925 and is the premier long distance race in latin america; in the US, of similar importance would be the longer Boston Marathon. There are other such races in Madrid, Barcelona and Angola.

I once worked with a Joseph Wolff, if I remember right, he was born on Saint Sylvester’s. Well, in Ohio, your car registration expires on your birthday. Joe drove a hell of a junker, a chevrolet land yacht of some kind. The sticker, on the bottom right of the car plate, was a 12. A cop stops him on the 30th, solely to ask, for his registration. He had Joe in his sights, he was severely disappointed that Joe was a Sylvester child. Cop had an attitude, but he could not issue the ticket, just vented some lip.

I’ve planted tulips on this day before, I think, the year before that, after being nagged and ridiculed for my tarrying. Recently, I have planted on Saint Sylvester’s day, itself; as long as the ground can be worked, the soil will accept. Flowers bloomed fine. In some cultures, unmarried girls think of a future husband on this latest of days. There is time.

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