Friday, April 23, 2010

St. George, Martyr


St. George is honoured in the Catholic church as one of the most illustrious martyrs of Christ. The Greeks have long distinguished him by the title of The Great Martyr, and keep his festival a holiday of obligation. There stood formerly in Constantinople five or six churches dedicated in his honour; the oldest of which was always said to have been built by Constantine the Great; who seems also to have been the founder of the church of St. George, which stood over his tomb in Palestine. Both these churches were certainly built under the first Christian emperors. In the middle of the sixth age the Emperor Justinian erected a new church, in honour of this saint, at Bizanes, in Lesser Armenia: the Emperor Mauritius founded one in Constantinople. It is related in the life of St. Theodorus of Siceon, that he served God a long while in a chapel which bore the name of St. George, had a particular devotion to this glorious martyr, and strongly recommended the same to Mauritius, when he foretold him the empire. One of the churches of St. George in Constantinople, called Manganes, with a monastery adjoining, gave to the Hellespont the name of the Arm of St. George. To this day is St. George honoured as principal patron or tutelar saint by several eastern nations, particularly the Georgians. The Byzantine historians relate several battles to have been gained, and other miracles wrought through his intercession. From frequent pilgrimages to his church and tomb in Palestine, performed by those who visited the Holy Land, his veneration was much propagated over the West. St. Gregory of Tours mentions him as highly celebrated in France in the sixth century.1 St. Gregory the Great ordered an old church of St. George, which was fallen to decay, to be repaired.2 His office is found in the sacramentary of that pope, and many others.3 St. Clotildis, wife of Clovis, the first Christian king of France, erected altars under his name; and the church of Chelles, built by her, was originally dedicated in his honour. The ancient life of Droctovæus mentions, that certain relics of St. George were placed in the church of St. Vincent, now called St. Germaris, in Paris, when it was first consecrated. Fortunatus of Poitiers wrote an epigram on a church of St. George, in Mentz. The intercession of this saint was implored especially in battles, and by warriors, as appears by several instances in the Byzantine history, and he is said to have been himself a great soldier. He is at this day the tutelar saint of the republic of Genoa; and was chosen by our ancestors in the same quality under our first Norman kings. The great national council, held at Oxford in 1222, commanded his feast to be kept a holiday of the lesser rank throughout all England.4 Under his name and ensign was instituted by our victorious King Edward III. in 1330, the most noble Order of knighthood in Europe, consisting of twenty-five knights, besides the sovereign. Its establishment is dated fifty years before the knights of St. Michael were instituted in France, by Lewis XI., eighty years before the Order of the Golden Fleece, established by Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy; and one hundred and ninety before the Order of St. Andrew was set up in Scotland by James V. The Emperor Frederick IV. instituted, in 1470, an Order of knights in honour of St. George; and an honourable military Order in Venice bears his name.5

The extraordinary devotion of all Christendom to this saint,7 is an authentic proof how glorious his triumph and name have always been in the church. All his acts relate, that he suffered under Dioclesian, at Nicomedia. Joseph Assemani8 shows, from the unanimous consent of all churches, that he was crowned on the 23rd of April. According to the account given us by Metaphrastes, he was born in Cappadocia, of noble Christian parents. After the death of his father, he went with his mother into Palestine, she being a native of that country, and having there a considerable estate, which fell to her son George. He was strong and robust in body, and having embraced the profession of a soldier, was made a tribune, or colonel in the army. By his courage and conduct, he was soon preferred to higher stations by the Emperor Dioclesian. When that prince waged war against the Christian religion, St. George laid aside the marks of his dignity, threw up his commission and posts, and complained to the emperor himself of his severities and bloody edicts. He was immediately cast into prison, and tried, first by promises, and afterwards put to the question, and tortured with great cruelty; but nothing could shake his constancy. The next day he was led through the city and beheaded. Some think him to have been the same illustrious young man who tore down the edicts when they were first fixed up at Nicomedia,9 as Lactantius relates in his book, On the Death of the Persecutors, and Eusebius in his history.10 The reason why St. George has been regarded as the patron of military men, is partly upon the score of his profession, and partly upon the credit of a relation of his appearing to the Christian army in the holy war, before the battle of Antioch. The success of this battle proving fortunate to the Christians, under Godfrey of Bouillon, made the name of St. George more famous in Europe, and disposed the military men to implore more particularly his intercession. This devotion was confirmed, as it is said, by an apparition of St. George to our king, Richard I., in his expedition against the Saracens: which vision, being declared to the troops, was to them a great encouragement, and they soon after defeated the enemy.11 St. George is usually painted on horseback, and tilting at a dragon, under his feet; but this representation is no more than an emblematical figure, purporting, that, by his faith and Christian fortitude, he conquered the devil, called the dragon in the Apocalypse.

Though many dishonour the profession of arms by a licentiousness of manners, yet, to show us that perfect sanctity is attainable in all states, we find the names of more soldiers recorded in the martyrologies than almost of any other profession. Every true disciple of Christ must be a martyr in the disposition of his heart, as he must be ready to lose all, and to suffer anything, rather than to offend God. Every good Christian is also a martyr, by the patience and courage with which he bears all trials. There is no virtue more necessary, nor of which the exercise ought to be more frequent, than patience. In this mortal life we have continually something to suffer from disappointments in affairs, from the severity of the seasons, from the injustice, caprice, peevishness, jealousy, or antipathy of others; and from ourselves, in pains either of mind or body. Even our own weaknesses and faults are to us subjects of patience. And as we have continually many burdens, both of our own and others, to bear, it is only in patience that we are to possess our souls. This affords us comfort in all our sufferings, and maintains our souls in unshaken tranquillity and peace. This is true greatness of mind, and the virtue of heroic souls. But, alas! every accident ruffles and disturbs us: and we are insupportable even to ourselves. What comfort should we find, what peace should we enjoy, what treasures of virtue should we heap up, what an harvest of merits should we reap, if we had learned the true spirit of Christian patience! This is the martyrdom, and the crown of every faithful disciple of Christ.

1 L. de Glor. Mart. c. 101.

2 L. 19, ep. 73, p. 1173, ed. Ben.

3 Not. Menardii in Sacram. S. Greg.

4 Conc. t. 11, p. 275.

5 See F. Honoré Hist. des Ordres de Chevalerie, t. 4; also Ashmole's Order of the Garter; Anstis's Register; and Pott's Antiquities of Windsor and Hist. of this Order, 4to. 1749, with the MS. notes of Dr. Buswell, canon of Westminster.

7 Certain ancient heretics forged false acts of St. George, which the learned Pope Gelasius condemned in his famous Roman council in 494. Calvin and the Centuriators call him an imaginary saint; but their slander is confuted by most authentic titles and monuments. Jurieu, (Apol. de Reform, t. 1,) Reynolds, and Echard blush not to confound him with George the Arian, usurper of the see of Alexandria, the infamous persecutor of St. Athanasius and the Catholics, whom he endeavoured to dragoon into Arianism, by butchering great numbers, banishing their bishops, plundering the houses of orphans and widows, and outraging the nuns with the utmost barbarity, till the Gentiles, exasperated by his cruelties and scandalous behaviour, massacred him, under Julian. The stories of the combat of St. George with the magician Athanasius, and the like trumpery, came from the mint of the Arians, as Baronius takes notice: and we find them rejected by Pope Gelasius and the other Catholics, who were too well acquainted with the Arian wolf, whose acts they condemned, to confound him with this illustrious martyr of Christ. Though the forgeries of the heretics have been so blended with the truth in the history of this holy martyr, that, as we have it, there is no means of separating the sterling from the counterfeit. See, in Dr. Heylin's History of St. George, the testimonies of writers in every age from Gelasius I. in 402, downwards, concerning this holy martyr.

8 Jos. Assemani in Calend. Univer. t. 6, p. 284. See Memoires de l'Académie des Inscript. t. 26, p. 436.

9 The proofs of this plausible conjecture, see in Papebroke, on St. George, sect. 4, Apr. t. 3, p. 107. Eusebius mentions this anonymous martyr to have been apprehended at Nicomedia, the first victim of the persecution, upon the approach of Easter-day, which fell that year on the 18th of April; so that he seems to have been apprehended on Good-Friday, and after having been tortured for eight days, to have received his crown on the Friday following, the 23rd of April. His body was most easily transported, in the time of the persecution, from Nicomedia, near the Propontis, into the Mediterranean Sea, and to Joppe, in Palestine. Sec also Jos. Assemani Comment. in Cal. Univ.

10 See the Acts of St. Anthimus and Comp.

11 See Dr. Heylin's History of St. George.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

St. Soter, Pope, Martyr

St. Soter was raised to the papacy upon the death of St. Anicetus, in 173. By the sweetness of his discourses, he comforted all persons with the tenderness of a father, and assisted the indigent with liberal alms, especially those who suffered for the faith. He liberally extended his charities, according to the custom of his predecessors, to remote churches, particularly to that of Corinth, to which he addressed an excellent letter, as St. Dionysius of Corinth testifies in his letter of thanks, who adds that his letter was found worthy to be read for their edification on Sundays at their assemblies to celebrate the divine mysteries, together with the letter of St. Clement, pope. St. Soter vigorously opposed the heresy of Montanus, and governed the church to the year 177. See Eusebius, from whose ecclesiastical history these few circumstances are gleaned. In the Martyrologies this pope is styled a martyr.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

St. Anastasius the Sinaite, Anchoret

He testifies of himself, that in his tender years he listened to the gospel with no less respect than if he had heard Christ himself speak; and received the blessed eucharist with the same love and tenderness as if he embraced him visibly present.— After visiting the holy places at Jerusalem, he went to mount Sinai, and was so much edified by the sight of the angelical lives of the hermits who inhabited it, that he built himself a cell among them. Here, perfectly dead to all earthly things and to himself, he deserved, by prayer and obedience, to receive from God the double talent of wisdom and spiritual science, the treasures of which are only communicated to the humble. He often left his desert to defend the church. At Alexandria he publicly convicted certain chiefs of the Acephali heretics, that, in condemning St. Flavian, they had condemned all the fathers of the church, insomuch that the people could scarcely be contained from stoning them. He confuted them by an excellent work entitled Odegus, or the Guide; in which, besides refuting the Eutychian errors, he lays down rules against all heresies. He has also left several ascetic works, full of piety and devotion. In his discourse on the Synaxis, or mass, he urges the duties of the confession of sins to a priest, respect at mass, and pardon of injuries in so pathetic a manner, that Canisius and Combefis recommended this piece to the diligent perusal of all preachers. This saint was living in 678, as Ceillier demonstrates from certain passages in his Odegus.1 See Henschenius, t. 2, Apr. p. 850; Ceillier, t. 17.

1 T. 17, p. 431.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

St. Agnes of Monte Pulciano


From her life, written by F. Raymund of Capua, general of the Dominicans, thirty years after her death, with the remarks of F. Papebroke, Apr. t. 2, p. 791. Also her life, compiled from authentic instruments, by F. Laurence Surdini Mariani, in 1606; and in French, by F. Roux at Paris, in 1728.

A. D. 1317.

This holy virgin was a native Monte Pulciano, in Tuscany. She had scarcely attained to the use of reason, when she conceived an extraordinary relish and ardour for prayer, and in her infancy often spent whole hours in reciting the Our Father and Hail Mary, on her knees, in some private corner of a chamber. At nine years of age she was placed by her parents in a convent of Sackins, of the order of St. Francis, so called from their habit, or at least their scapular, being made of sackcloth. Agnes, in so tender an age, was a model of all virtues to this austere community: and she renounced the world, though of a plentiful fortune, being sensible of its dangers, before she knew what it was to enjoy it. At fifteen years of age she was removed to a new foundation of the Order of St. Dominic, at Proceno, in the county of Orvieto, and appointed abbess by Pope Nicholas IV. She slept on the ground, with a stone under her head in lieu of a pillow; and for fifteen years she fasted always on bread and water, till she was obliged by her directors, on account of sickness, to mitigate her austerities. Her townsmen, earnestly desiring to be possessed of her again, demolished a lewd house, and erected upon the spot a nunnery, which they bestowed on her. This prevailed on her to return, and she established in this house nuns of the Order of St. Dominic, which rule she herself professed. The gifts of miracles and prophecy rendered her famous among men, though humility, charity, and patience under her long sicknesses, were the graces which recommended her to God. She died at Monte Pulciano, on the 20th of April, 1317, being forty-three years old. Her body was removed to the Dominicans' church of Orvieto, in 1435, where it remains. Clement VIII. approved her office for the use of the Order of St. Dominic, and inserted her name in the Roman Martyrology. She was solemnly canonized by Benedict XIII. in 1726.

Monday, April 19, 2010

St. Ursmar, Bishop and Abbot


He was born near Avesne, in Haynault, and grew up from his cradle a model of all virtues, in which he made a continual progress by a life of humility, patience, and penance, and by an assiduous application to prayer, in which he usually shed abundance of tears. What he most earnestly asked of God was the gift of an ardent charity, that all his thoughts and actions, and those of all men, might, with the most pure and fervent intention, and in the most perfect manner, be directed in all things to fulfil his holy and adorable will. In his conversation it was his earnest desire and drift to induce persons of a secular life to fix their thoughts, as much as the condition of their state would allow, on heavenly things; and to accompany even their worldly business with such aspirations and thoughts, and to study to withdraw their hearts from all attachment to creatures. St. Landelin had then lately founded the abbey of Lobes, on the Sambre, in a territory which is now subject to the prince of Liege, though in the diocess of Cambray. Ursmar here put on the monastic habit. When St. Landelin retired into a closer solitude, where he soon after built the monastery of Crespin, he left Ursmar abbot of Lobes, in 686. Our saint redoubled his fervour in all the exercises of penance in this dignity. He never tasted any flesh-meat or fish, and for ten years never once touched bread, not even in a dangerous sickness. He finished the building of his abbey and church, and founded Aune and several other monasteries. He often left his dear cell to preach the faith to idolaters and sinners. He became the apostle of several districts in the diocess of Cambray, Arras, Tournay, Noyon, Terouanne, Laon, Metz, Tries, Cologne, and Maestricht. By virtue of a commission from the holy see, he exercised the functions of a bishop: his predecessor, St. Landelin, and his two successors, SS. Ennin and Theodulph, were invested with the same character. In his old age he resigned his abbacy to St. Ermin, and died in retirement in 713, being almost sixty-nine years old, on the 18th day of April, on which he is honoured as principal patron of Binche, Lobes, and Luxembourg; but is named on the 19th, which was the day of his burial, in the Roman and several other Martyrologies. His relics are venerated at Binche, four leagues from Mons. See his original life by a disciple, with the notes by Henschenius: also Folcuin, abbot of Laubes, in 980, in his accurate history of The Gests of the Abbots of Laubes, published by D'Achery, Spicileg. t. 6, p. 541. See also Folcuin's appendix on the miracles wrought at the shrine of St. Ursmar, under the author's own eyes, ib.; and in the Bollandists, 18 Apr. p. 564; and another life of this saint composed in heroic verse by Heriger, abbot of Laubes, in the year 1000.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

St. Laserian, by Some Called Molaiske


Laserian was son of Cairel and Blitha, persons of great distinction, who intrusted his education, from his infancy, to the Abbot St. Murin. He afterwards travelled to Rome in the days of Pope Gregory the Great, by whom he is said to have been ordained priest. Soon after his return to Ireland, he visited Leighlin, a place situated a mile and a half westward of the river Barrow, where St. Goban was then abbot, who, resigning to him his abbacy, built a little cell for himself and a small number of monks. A great synod being soon after assembled there, in the White Fields, St. Laserian strenuously maintained the Catholic time of celebrating Easter against St. Munnu. This council was held in March 630. But St. Laserian not being able to satisfy in it all his opponents, took another journey to Rome, where Pope Honorius ordained him bishop, without allotting him any particular see, and made him his legate in Ireland. Nor was his commission fruitless: for, after his return, the time of observing Easter was reformed in the south parts of Ireland. St. Laserian died on the 18th of April, 638, and was buried in his own church which he had founded. In a synod held at Dublin, in 1330, the feasts of St. Patrick, St. Laserian, St. Bridget, St. Conic, and St. Edan, are enumerated among the double festivals through the province of Dublin. St. Laserian was the first bishop of Old Leighlin, now a village.— New Leighlin stands on the eastern bank of the river Barrow. See Ware, p. 54, and Colgan's MSS. on the 18th of April.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

St. Anicetus, Pope, Martyr

See Euseblus, b. 5, c. 24. Tillemont, t. 2, p. 442.


He succeeded St. Pius in the latter part of the reign of Antoninus Pius, sat about eight years, from 165 to 173, and is styled a martyr in the Roman and other Martyrologies: if he did not shed his blood for the faith, he at least purchased the title of martyr by great sufferings and dangers. He received a visit from St. Polycarp, and tolerated the custom of the Asiatics in celebrating Easter on the fourteenth day of the first moon after the vernal equinox, with the Jews. His vigilance protected his flock from the wiles of the heretics, Valentine and Marcion, instruments whom the devil sent to Rome, seeking to corrupt the faith in the capital of the world. Marcion, in Pontus, after having embraced a state of continency, fell into a crime with a young virgin, for which he was excommunicated by the bishop who was his own father. He came to Rome in hopes to be there received into the communion of the church, but was rejected till he had made satisfaction, by penance, to his own bishop. Upon which he commenced heresiarch, as Tertullian and St. Epiphanius relate. He professed himself a stoic philosopher, and seems to have been a priest. Joining the heresiarch Cerdo, who was come out of Syria to Rome, in the time of Pope Hyginus, he established two gods, or first principles, the one, the author of all good; the other of all evil: also of the Jewish law, and of the Old Testament: which he maintained to be contrary to the New. Tertullian informs us,1 that he repented, and was promised at Rome to be again received into the church, on condition that he brought back all those souls which he had perverted. This he was labouring to effect when he died, though some understand this circumstance of his master Cerdo. He left many unhappy followers of his errors at Rome, in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Persia, and Cyprus.2

The thirty-six first bishops of Rome, down to Liberius, and, this one excepted, all the popes to Symmachus, the fifty-second, in 498, are honoured among the saints; and out of two hundred and forty eight popes, from St. Peter to Clement XIII. seventy-eight are named in the Roman Martyrology. In the primitive ages, the spirit of fervour and perfect sanctity, which is now-adays so rarely to be found in the very sanctuaries of virtue, and in the world, seems in most places scarcely so much as known, was conspicuous in most of the faithful, and especially in their pastors. The whole tenour of their lives, both in retirement and in their public actions, breathed it in such a manner as to render them the miracles of the world, angels on earth, living copies of their divine Redeemer, the odour of whose virtues and holy law and religion they spread on every side. Indeed, what could be more amiable, what more admirable, than the perfect simplicity, candour, and sincerity; the profound humility, invincible patience and meekness: the tender charity, even towards their enemies and persecutors; the piety, compunction, and heavenly zeal, which animated all their words and their whole conduct, and which, by fervent exercise under sufferings and persecutions, were carried to the most heroic degree of perfection? By often repeating in our prayers, sacred protestations of our love of God, we easily impose upon ourselves, and fancy that his love reigns in our affections. But by relapsing so frequently into impatience, vanity, pride, or other sins, we give the lie to ourselves. For it is impossible for the will to fall so easily and so suddenly from the sovereign degree of sincere love. If, after making the most solemn protestations of inviolable friendship and affection for a fellow-creature, we should have no sooner turned our backs, but should revile and contemn him, without having received any provocation or affront from, him, and this habitually, would not the whole world justly call our protestations hypocrisy, and our pretended friendship a mockery? Let us by this rule judge if our love of God be sovereign, so long as our inconstancy betrays the insincerity of our hearts.

1 Præscr. c. 30.

2 The liberality of Pope Clement VIII. in giving the body of St. Anicetus, found in the Catacombs, to the domestic chapel of the prince of Altemps at Rome, induced John Angelo, prince of Altemps, to write his Vita Aniceti, Pap&aeli; et Martyris.