Catholic Commute S02E01 Book Gates of Fire – 4 Lessons a modern man can learn from the ancients

The real lessons of the 300 spartans who died at thermopylae

New season!  I’m excited to have you all along for this, I hope you enjoy it.  We now have a “Saint of the episode” and some new music.  I’m leading off episode 1 with a review of a truly phenomenal book.  The book is called “Gates of Fire.”  It’s basically a story of the Spartans death by King Xerxes at the battle of thermopylae.  Yes, it is the battle that the movie “300” is based upon – but all similarity ends there.

This books is really great, I strongly encourage you to read it.  It goes into great depth about the meaning of bravery, courage, and sacrifice.  It speaks to the heart of what makes a man, what man is.  I also think it is a great testimony to the truth and power of living a Christian life.

In this episode, I highlight 4 specific truths that I learned from reading this book, and also that all modern men (and women too!) can learn from the ancients.  I hope you like it.

New music is from: http://www.bensound.com/royalty-free-music

You can download the .mp3 here!

Click “Continue Reading” to read the show notes!

Season 2 Episode 1: Book review of Gates of Fire: 4 Lessons a modern man can learn from the ancients

 

St. George,

Heroic Catholic soldier and defender of your Faith, you dared to criticize a tyrannical Emperor and were subjected to horrible torture. You could have occupied a high military position but you preferred to die for your Lord.
Obtain for us the great grace of heroic Christian courage that should mark soldiers of Christ. Amen

 

It is uncertain when Saint George was born and historians continue to debate to this day. However, his death date is estimated to be April 23 303 A.D.

The first piece of evidence of George’s existance appeared within the works of the Bollandists Daniel Papebroch, Jean Bolland, and Godfrey Henschen’s Bibliotheca Hagiographica Graeca. George was one of several names listed in the historical text, and Pope Gelasius claimed George was one of the saints “whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose actions are known only to God.”

George was born to a Roman officer and a Greek native of Lydda. Both were Christians from noble families and George was raised to follow their faith.

When George was old enough, he was welcomed into emporer Diocletian’s army. by his late 20’s, George became a Tribunus and served as an imperial guard for the Emperor at Nicomedia.

On February 24, 303 A.D., Diocletian, who hated Christians, announced that every Christian the army passed would be arrested and every other soldier should offer a sacrifice to the Roman gods.

George refused to abide by the order and told Diocletian, who was angry but greatly valued his friendship with George’s father.

When George announced his beliefs before his peers, Diocletian was unable to keep the news to himself.

In an effort to save George, Diocletian attempted to convert him to believe in the Roman gods, offered him land, money and slaves in exchange for offering a sacrifice to the Roman gods, and made several other offers that George refused.

Finally, after exhausting all other options, Diocletian ordered George’s execution. In preparation for his death, George gave his money to the poor and was sent for several torture sessions. He was lacerated on a wheel of swords and required resuscitation three times, but still George did not turn from God.

On April 23, 303 A.D., George was decapitated before Nicomedia’s outer wall. His body was sent to Lydda for burial, and other Christians went to honor George as a martyr.

Saint George and the Dragon

There are several stories about George fighting dragons, but in the Western version, a dragon or crocodile made its nest at a spring that provided water to Silene, believed to be modern-day Lcyrene in Libya.

The people were unable to collect water and so attempted to remove the dragon from its nest on several ocassions. It would temporarily leave its nest when they offered it a sheep each day, until the sheep disappeared and the people were distraught.

This was when they decided that a maiden would be just as effective as sending a sheep. The townspeople chose the victim by drawing straws. This continued until one day the princess’ straw was drawn.

The monarch begged for her to be spared but the people would not have it. She was offered to the dragon, but before she could be devoured, George appeared. He faced the dragon, protected himself with the sign of the Cross, and slayed the dragon.

After saving the town, the citizens abandoned their paganism and were all converted to Christianity.

Interesting Facts

Saint George stands out among other saints and legends because he is known and revered by both Muslims and Christians.
It is said Saint George killed the dragon near the sea in Beirut, thus Saint George bay was named in his honor.
Saint George’s feast day is celebrated on April 23, but if it falls before Easter, it is celebrated Easter Monday.
Saint George is the patron saint of England and Catalonia and his cross can be found throughout England.
In older works, Saint George is depicted wearing armor and holding a lance or fighting a dragon, which represents Christ’s enemies.

 

  1. Bravery is essential
    1. Andreia – manliness
    2. “Achilles, Homer tells us, possessed true andreia. But did he? Scion of an immortal mother, dipped as a babe in the waters of Styx, knowing himself to be save his heel invulnerable? Cowards would be rarer than feathers on fish if we all knew that.” Alexandros inquired if any of the city, in Dienekes’ opinion, possessed this true andreia. “Of all in Lakedaemon, our friend Polynikes comes closest. But even his valor I find unsatisfactory. He fights not out of fear of dishonor, but greed for glory. This may be noble, or at least unbase, but is it true andreia?” Ariston asked if this higher courage in fact existed. “It is no phantom,” Dienekes declared with conviction. “I have seen it. My brother Iatrokles possessed it in moments. When I beheld its grace upon him, I stood in awe. It radiated, sublime. In those hours he fought not like a man but a god. Leonidas has it on occasion. Olympieus doesn’t. I don’t. None of us here does.” He smiled. “Do you know who owns it, this pure form of courage, more than any other I have known?”
    3. In the era before gunpowder, all killing was of necessity done hand to hand. For a Greek or Roman warrior to slay his enemy, he had to get so close that there was an equal chance that the enemy’s sword or spear would kill him. This produced an ideal of manly virtue – andreia, in Greek – that prized valor and honor as highly as victory.
    4. To stand strong when your insides are turning to jelly
    5. Modern world has almost none of this left.  Men are feminized and women are confused.
  2. We are the role model that others are watching
    1. “A king does not abide within his tent while his men bleed and die upon the field. A king does not dine while his men go hungry, nor sleep when they stand at watch upon the wall. A king does not command his men’s loyalty through fear nor purchase it with gold; he earns their love by the sweat of his own back and the pains he endures for their sake. That which comprises the harshest burden, a king lifts first and sets down last. A king does not require service of those he leads but provides it to them…A king does not expend his substance to enslave men, but by his conduct and example makes them free.”
    2. Leonidas sought to instill courage not by his words alone but by the calm and professional manner with which he spoke them. War is work, not mystery.
    3. You are the commanders, your men will look to you and act as you do. Let no officer keep to himself or his brother officers, but circulate daylong among his men. Let them see you and see you unafraid. Where there is work to do, turn your hand to it first; the men will follow.
    4. Shirt that says “watch and see how a Christian man handles this situation.”
    5. Children and wife also watch.
    6. People are desperate to find someone worth following (not politics)
    7. Every spartan boy who was learning was assigned a mentor.
  3. How to conquer fear and embrace hardship
    1. “For what can be more noble than to slay oneself? Not literally. Not with a blade in the guts. But to extinguish the selfish self within, that part which looks only to its own preservation, to save its own skin. That, I saw, was the victory you Spartans had gained over yourselves. That was the glue. It was what you had learned and it made me stay, to learn it too.”
    2. “All my life,” Dienekes began, “one question has haunted me. What is the opposite of fear?”
    3. “To call it aphobia, fearlessness, is without meaning. This is just a name, thesis expressed as antithesis. To call the opposite of fear fearlessness is to say nothing. I want to know its true obverse, as day of night and heaven of earth.” “Expressed as a positive,” Ariston ventured. “Exactly!” Dienekes met the young man’s eyes in approval. He paused to study both youths’ expressions. Would they listen? Did they care? Were they, like him, true students of this subject? “How does one conquer fear of death, that most primordial of terrors, which resides in our very blood, as in all life, beasts as well as men?” He indicated the hounds flanking Suicide. “Dogs in a pack find courage to take on a lion. Each hound knows his place. He fears the dog ranked above and feeds off the fear of the dog below. Fear conquers fear.
    4. “The opposite of fear,” Dienekes said, “is love.”
    5. We no longer embrace hardship.  We are afraid of suffering
    6. The way of the cross IS suffering.
  4. Accepting a sacrifice is harder than making a sacrifice
    1. “Achilles, Homer tells us, possessed true andreia. But did he? Scion of an immortal mother, dipped as a babe in the waters of Styx, knowing himself to be save his heel invulnerable? Cowards would be rarer than feathers on fish if we all knew that.” Alexandros inquired if any of the city, in Dienekes’ opinion, possessed this true andreia. “Of all in Lakedaemon, our friend Polynikes comes closest. But even his valor I find unsatisfactory. He fights not out of fear of dishonor, but greed for glory. This may be noble, or at least unbase, but is it true andreia?” Ariston asked if this higher courage in fact existed. “It is no phantom,” Dienekes declared with conviction. “I have seen it. My brother Iatrokles possessed it in moments. When I beheld its grace upon him, I stood in awe. It radiated, sublime. In those hours he fought not like a man but a god. Leonidas has it on occasion. Olympieus doesn’t. I don’t. None of us here does.” He smiled. “Do you know who owns it, this pure form of courage, more than any other I have known?” None around the fire answered. “My wife,” Dienekes said. He turned to Alexandros. “And your mother, the lady Paraleia.” He smiled again. “There is a clue here. The seat of this higher valor, I suspect, lies in that which is female. The words themselves for courage, andreia and aphobia, are female, whereas phobos and tromos, terror, are masculine. Perhaps the god we seek is not a god at all, but a goddess. I don’t know.”
    2. “What could be more contrary to female nature, to motherhood, than to stand unmoved and unmoving as her sons march off to death? Must not every sinew of the mother’s flesh call out in agony and affront at such an outrage? Must not her heart seek to cry in its passion, ‘No! Not my son! Spare him!’ That women, from some source unknown to us, summon the will to conquer this their own deepest nature is, I believe, the reason we stand in awe of our mothers and sisters and wives. This, I believe, Dienekes, is the essence of women’s courage and why it, as you suggested, is superior to men’s.”
  5. Everything points to the gospel, to Christ

 

The city speculates and guesses,’ Leonidas resumed, ‘as to why I elected those I did to the Three Hundred. Was it for their prowess as individual men-at-arms? How could this be, when among champions such as Polynikes, Dienekes, Alpheus and Maron I nominated as well unblooded youths such as Ariston and your own Alexandros? Perhaps, the city supposes, I divined some subtle alchemy of this unique aggregation. Maybe I was bribed, or paying back favors. I will never tell the city why I appointed these three hundred. I will never tell the Three Hundred themselves. But I now tell you.

 

“‘ I chose them not for their own valor, lady, but for that of their women.’ “At these words of the king a cry of anguish escaped my breast, as I understood before he spoke what further he would now say. I felt his hand about my shoulder, comforting me. “‘ Greece stands now upon her most perilous hour. If she saves herself, it will not be at the Gates (death alone awaits us and our allies there) but later, in battles yet to come, by land and sea. Then Greece, if the gods will it, will preserve herself. Do you understand this, lady? Well. Now listen. “‘ When the battle is over, when the Three Hundred have gone down to death, then will all Greece look to the Spartans, to see how they bear it. “‘ But who, lady, who will the Spartans look to? To you. To you and the other wives and mothers, sisters and daughters of the fallen. “‘ If they behold your hearts riven and broken with grief, they, too, will break. And Greece will break with them. But if you bear up, dry-eyed, not alone enduring your loss but seizing it with contempt for its agony and embracing it as the honor that it is in truth, then Sparta will stand. And all Hellas will stand behind her. “‘ Why have I nominated you, lady, to bear up beneath this most terrible of trials, you and your sisters of the Three Hundred? Because you can.’ “From my lips sprang these words, reproving the king: ‘And is this the reward of women’s virtue, Leonidas? To be afflicted twice over, and bear a double grief?’ “On this instant the queen Gorgo reached for me, to offer succor. Leonidas held her back. Instead, yet securing my shoulder within the grasp of his warm arm, he addressed my outburst of anguish. “‘ My wife reaches for you, Paraleia, to impart by her touch intelligence of the burden she has borne without plaint all her life. This has ever been denied her, to be simply bride to Leonidas, but always she must be wife to Lakedaemon. This now is your role as well, lady. No longer may you be wife to Olympieus or mother to Alexandros, but must serve as wife and mother of our nation. You and your sisters of the Three Hundred are the mothers now of all Greece, and of freedom itself. This is stern duty, Paraleia, to which I have called my own beloved wife, the mother of my children, and have now as well summoned you. Tell me, lady. Was I wrong?’ “Upon these words of the king, all self-command fled my heart. I broke down, weeping. Leonidas pulled me to him in kindness; I buried my face in his lap, as a girl does with her father, and sobbed, unable to constrain myself. The king held me firmly, his embrace neither stern nor unkind, but bearing me up with gentleness and solace. “As when a wildfire upon a hillside at last consumes itself and flares no more, so my fit of grief burned itself out. A peace settled clemently upon me, as if gift not alone of that strong arm which clasped me yet in its embrace, but of some more profound source, ineffable and divine. Strength returned to my knees and courage to my heart. I rose before the king and wiped my eyes. These words I addressed to him, not of my own will it seemed, but prompted by some unseen goddess whose source and origin I could not name. “‘ Those were the last tears of mine, my lord, that the sun will ever see.’”

 

  1. Bravery is essential to us still
  2. We are the role model that others are watching
  3. How to conquer fear and embrace hardship
  4. Accepting a sacrifice is harder than making a sacrifice
  5. Everything points to the gospel, to Christ

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