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From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

THE glory of martyrdom illumines this day with a profusion rarely met with in the cycle; and already we seem to descry the rosy dawn of that brightest day of this month, on which Peter and Paul will consummate in their blood their own splendid confession. Italy and Gaul, Rome and Lyons concur in forming a legion of heroes in the service of heaven. For to-day Lyons, the illustrious daughter of Rome, is keeping the special festival of a whole phalanx of warriors, headed by the veteran chief, St Pothinus, disciple of St Polycarp, who, in the second century, levied the brave recruits of his battalion on the banks of the Rhone.[1] But to the mother Church are due the first honours. Let us, then, hail Marcellinus, together with the numerous progeny begotten by his fruitful priesthood, and rendered worthy by the Holy Ghost to share in his triumph. Let us hail, likewise, the exorcist, Peter, leading to the sacred font a long line of pagans whom he won over to Christ by proving to them the weakness of the demons.

When Christianity appeared on earth, Satan was visibly the prince of this world. To him was every altar reared; to his empire were all laws and customs subservient. From the depths of their famous temples, the demon chiefs directed the political affairs of the cities that came to consult their oracles; under divers names the lowest of the fallen angels found honour and influence at the domestic hearth; others had functions assigned to them, in forests, on mountains, at fountains, or on sea, occupying, in opposition to God, this world that had been created by him for his glory, but which Satan, through man’s connivance, had conquered. Four thousand years of abandonment on the part of heaven permitted the usurper to consolidate his conquest; and a strong defence had been planned in preparation for the day on which the lawful King should offer to re-enter on his rights.

The coming of the Word made Flesh was the signal for the assertion of the divine claim. The prince of this world, personally vanquished by the Son of God, understood well enough that he must needs return to the depths of hell. But the countless powers of darkness constituted by him would maintain the struggle through the length of ages, and dispute their position inch by inch. Driven from towns by the abjurations of holy Church and the triumph of martyrs, the infernal legions would fain marshal their ranks in the wilderness; there, under the leadership of an Anthony or a Pachomius, the soldiers of Christ must wage against them ceaseless and terrific battle. In the west, Benedict, the patriarch of monks, finds altars to the demons, and even demons themselves, on the heights of Cassino as late as the sixth century. Even in the seventh, they are found contending against St Gall for possession of the woods, lakes and rocks of what we now call Switzerland; and at last they are heard uttering mournful complaint, because, driven from the haunts of men, even such desolate spots as these are denied them. Verily, in the divine mind, the vocation of a monk to the desert has for itsend, not only flight from the world and its concerns, but likewise the pursuit of demons into their last entrenchments.

We have dwelt upon these considerations because their importance is extreme, and because this subject is now systematically ignored. True Christians firmly believe, now as formerly, in the spiritual combat which the soul has to sustain against hell, in the secrecy of conscience; but too many have no scruple in rejecting, as if belonging to the domain of the imagination, whatever is related of the public combats maintained by our fathers against the demons. The excuse for such Christians is, no doubt, the fact that they live in a land where this external war was ended centuries ago by the social victory of Christendom. But the Holy Ghost has declared that the old serpent, bound up for a thousand years, is at last to be again unchained for a while.[2] If we be nearing this fatal epoch, it is high time to look about us; we shall be ill prepared for waging the old battles, if we persist in our ignorance, and in branding with the name of legend the best attested facts in the history of our ancestors. After all, what is history, since the revolt of Lucifer, but a picture of the war that is being waged between God and Satan? Now if Satan has, by divine permission, invaded the exterior world as well as that of souls, must not the struggle to cast him out[3] be a hand to hand fight, an exterior and visible encounter?

‘The Word,’ says St Justin, ‘was made Flesh for two ends: to save believers, and to drive away demons.’[4] So also, the expulsion of demons from the places they occupy in this material world, and specially in the noblest part thereof, the bodies of men, appears in the Gospel to have been one of the chief characteristics of our Saviour’s power. Again, when on quitting the earth he sent his apostles to continue his work amidst the nations, this is the very thing he singled out as a primary sign of the mission they were to fulfil.[5] The world of that day made no mistake about it. Soon enough had the pagans to witness the cessation of the ancient oracles in every place;[6] and the cause of a phenomenon of such import to the ancient religion was evident to all: the very demons themselves were not backward in ascribing to the Christians their enforced silence. As regards this power of Christianity against hell, the apologists of the second and third centuries appeal on the subject to public testimony, without fear of contradiction. ‘Before the eyes of everyone,’ says St Justin to the emperors, ‘ the Christians drive out demons in the name of Jesus Christ, not only in Rome, but in the whole universe.᾽[7] The gods of Olympus beheld themselves shamefully unmasked, in the presence of their confused adorers, and Tertullian might well challenge the magistrates of the empire thus: ‘Let one of those men who declare themselves to be under the power of the gods, be brought before your tribunals: at the command of the first comer amongst us, the spirit whereby they are possessed will be constrained to confess what he is; if he avow not himself a demon and no god, fearing to lie to a Christian, at once shed the blood of this Christian blasphemer. But no; it is the terror they have of Christ that forces them to take flight at the mere touch or even the breath of one of his servants.᾽[8]

Baptism sufficed to give man such power as this; and this was the real meaning of our Lord’s promise, when speaking not only of the heads of the Church, but of all who would believe in him, he said: ‘In my name they shall cast out devils.᾽[9] At an early date, however, the Church, organizing the holy war, constituted among her sons one special Order having for its direct mission the pursuit of Satan on every point of this visible world. The exorcists were, by this delegation, invested with a power that accelerates the downfall of the prince of this world; and to render this defeat more odious and humiliating the Church raised no higher than to the rank of inferior clergy an Order so terrible to hell. Lucifer had aimed at being equal to the Most High;[10]hurled down from heaven, he flattered himself in his folly that he would be able to supplant God upon the earth: and lo! the charge of defeating him here is confided not to angels, his equals by nature, but to men, and even to the least of this credulous race which for long ages he had seen prostrate before him! Their hand of flesh constrains him, spirit though he be, to come off his throne; at their word he must needs cast away his vain adornments, he must unmask himself; the water they bless rekindles within him his eternal tortures; of the prince of this world and his pomps nought remains but mere Satan, the ugly-faced apostate, the condemned criminal wincing in the dust at the feet of the sons of men, or fleeing like a dry leaf before the breath of their mouth.

The archangel Michael recognizes, in these sons of Adam, the worthy allies of the faithful angels he led forward to victory. But amid those who continue the mighty battle begun on the heights of heaven,[11] the exorcist Peter comes before us to-day radiant with matchless splendour. The triumph of martyrdom has been added to his victories won over Satan's cohorts. None better than he drove hell back; for, chasing the demons out of men’s bodies, he moreover made conquest of their souls. The priest Marcellinus, the companion of his victories and martyrdom, is likewise his associate in glory. The Church wishes that these two names, so formidable to the spirits of darkness, should shine in one same aureole here below as in heaven. Daily does she render them the most solemn homage in her power by naming them both, on the diptych of the holy Sacrifice, together with the apostles and her first sons. Such was the importance of the mission they fulfilled and the renown of their final combat, that their bodies, translated to the Via Latina, became the nucleus of an illustrious cemetery. In the age of peace, that came soon after their glorious confession, the Christians vied with one another in obtaining sepulture near these soldiers of Christ, whose protection they craved. Constantine the Great, the vanquisher of idolatry, deposited at their sacred feet the remains of his mother, St Helena, who had herself become a terror to the demons by her discovery of the true Cross. A celebrated inscription was composed in their honour by St Damasus, who in childhood had learned the details of their martyrdom from their executioner himself after his conversion; this inscription, near their tomb, completed the monuments of that catacomb wherein Christian art had multiplied its richest teachings.

To the memory of Saints Marcellinus and Peter is joined, in the liturgy of to-day, the name of a holy bishop and martyr, formerly well known to the faithful. If the acts of his life which have reached us are not free from all reproach from a critical point of view, the favours obtained by the intercession of St Erasmus or Elmo wafted his name over the whole of Christendom, as is attested by the numberless forms this name assumed in various countries of the west during the middle ages. He holds a place in the group of saints styled auxiliatores or helpers, whose cultus is widespread particularly in Germany and Italy. Mariners look upon him as their patron, because of a certain miraculous voyage related in his life; one of the tortures to which he was subjected during his martyrdom has caused him to be invoked for colic. Nor should we forget to mention here how great a veneration St Benedict, the patriarch of western monks, had for St Erasmus; when he quitted the Campagna for his solitude on the banks of the Anio, he marked his principal station between Subiaco and Monte Cassino, by building a church and monastery at Veroli under the invocation of this holy martyr; he dedicated another in Rome itself to St Erasmus.

Let us now read the few lines devoted by the Church to the memory of our three Saints.

Petrus, exorcista, Diocletiano imperatore, Romæ a Sereno judice propter Christianæ fidei confessionem missus in carcerem, Paulinam Artemii, qui carceri præerat, filiam a dæmone agitatam liberavit. Quo facto et parentes puellæ cum tota familia et vicinos, qui ad rei novitatem concurrerant, Jesu Christo conciliatos, ad Marcellinum presbyterum adduxit, a quo omnes baptizati sunt. Quod ubi rescivit Serenus, Petrum et Marcellinum ad se vocatos asperius objurgat et ad verborum acerbitatem minas ac terrores adjungit, nisi Christo renuntient. Cui cum MarcellinusChristiana libertate responderet, pugnis contusum et a Petro sejunctum, nudum includit in carcerem stratum vitri fragmentis, sine cibo ac sine lumine. Petrum item constringi imperat arctissimis vinculis. Sed cum utrique ex tormentis fides et animus cresceret, constanti confessione, et abscisso capite, illustre testimonium Jesu Christo dederunt. Erasmus, episcopus imperatoribus Diocletiano et Maximiano, in Campania plumbatis et fustibus cæsus, resina quoque, sulphure, plumbo liquefacto et ferventi pice, cero oleoque perfusus, inde tamen integer et inviolatus evasit. Quo miraculo multi se ad Christi fidem converterunt. Verum is, iterum detrusus in carcerem, constrictus ferreis gravissimisque vinculis, inde ab angelo mirabiliter ereptus est. Deinde Formiis a Maximiano variis affectus suppliciis, tunicaque ærea candenti indutus, illa etiam tormenta divina virtute superavit. Denique, plurimis et in fide confirmatis et ad fidem conversis, insignem martyrii palmam adeptus est.
Peter, an exorcist, was cast into prison at Rome, under the emperor Diocletian, by the judge Serenus, for confessing the Christian faith. He there set free Paulina, the daughter of Artemius, the keeper of the prison, from an evil spirit which tormented her. Upon this, Artemius and his wife and all their house, with their neighbours who had run together to see the strange thing, were converted to Jesus Christ. Peter therefore brought them to Marcellinus the priest, who baptized them all. When Serenus heard of it, he called Peter and Marcellinus before him, and sharply rebuked them, adding to his bitter words threats and terrors, unless they would deny Christ. Marcellinus answered him with Christian boldness, whereupon he caused him to be buffeted, separated him from Peter, and shut him up naked, in a prison strewn with broken glass, without either food or light. Peter also he straitly confined. But when both of them were found to increase in faith and courage in their bonds, they were beheaded, unshaken in their testimony, and confessing Jesus Christ gloriously by their blood. In Campania the bishop Erasmus was, under the empire of Diocletian and Maximian, beaten with clubs and whips loaded with lead, and afterwards plunged into resin, sulphur, melted lead, boiling pitch, wax, and oil. From all this he came forth whole and sound: which wonder converted many to believe in Christ. He was remanded to prison, and straitly bound in iron fetters. But from these he was wondrously delivered by an angel. At last, being taken to Formi, Maximian caused him to be subjected to divers torments, being clad in a coat of red-hot brass, but the power of God made him more than conqueror in all these things also. Afterwards, having converted many to the faith and confirmed them therein, he obtained the palm of a glorious martyrdom.

Holy martyrs, you all confessed Jesus Christ, in the midst of the most terrific storm ever raised by the demon against the Church. Though all three in different grades of the hierarchy, you were alike guides of the Christian people, drawing them by thousands in your train, into the arena of martyrdom, and, by still more numerous conversions, filling up the void made in earth's chosen band by the departure of your victorious companions to heaven. Wherefore the Church this day joins her grateful homage here below, with the congratulation that rings through the Church triumphant. Be propitious, as of yore, in alleviating the ills that overwhelm mankind in this vale of tears. The excess of man's misery is that he seems to have forgotten how to call on such powerful protectors in his hour of need. Revive your memory, in our midst, by new benefits to our race.

As thou, O Erasmus, wast formerly protected by heaven, do thou now, in thy turn, succour those who are a prey to the tempest-tossed sea. In thy last hour of bitter anguish, thou didst suffer thine executioners to tear thy very bowels; lend a kindly aid to such as call upon thy name when racked by pains which bear some resemblance, though but faint, to what thou didst endure for Christ.

Peter and Marcellinus, linked one to another both in toil and in glory, cast gentle eyes upon us: one glance of yours would make all hell to tremble, and would drive far from us its cohorts. But how much is your aid needed in society at large, in the whole visible world! The foe you so mightily thrust backwards into the fiery pit is once more master. Alas! have we come to the time in which, again taking up war against the saints, it shall be granted him to overcome them?[12] Scarce does he even hide himself nowadays. Societies which formerly worked in secret have now openly surrendered to him a thousand sources of evil; he may be seen trying to push his way into gatherings of all sorts, into the very bosom of homes, as a family guest, as a comrade in diversion or in business, with table-turning and all those processes for divination, such as Tertullian denounced in your early day.[13] The expulsion of demons by Christianity had been so absolute that, up to more recent times, such fatal practices had fallen into utter oblivion amongst us. If at first, in Christian families, the warning voice of the pastors of God's Church has prevailed over the incitements of an unhealthy curiosity, a sect has since been formed, in which Satan is sole guide and oracle. The spiritists, as they are called, in concert with freemasonry, are preparing the way for the final invasion of the exterior world by infernal bands. Antichrist, with his usurped power and vain prestige, will be but the common product of political lodges and of this sect which proposes to bring back, under a new form, the ancient mysteries of paganism. Valiant soldiers of the Church, make us, we beseech you, worthy of our forefathers. If the Christian army must needs decrease in numbers, let its faith wax all the stronger; let its courage neither fail nor go astray; may its ranks be seen facing the foe, at that last hour in which the Lord Jesus will slay, with the breath of his mouth, the man of sin,[14] and plunge once again and for ever the whole of Satan's crew down into the lowest depths of the bottomless pit.


[1] Note of the Translator. SS. Pothinus, Blandina, and companions, martyrs of Lyons, are marked on this day in the Roman Martyrology, but as the feast is kept only in France, we have omitted in our translation the pages devoted to their memory in this place.
[2] Apoc. xx 2, 3.
[3] St John xii 31.
[4] 2 Apol. vi.
[5] St Mark xvi 17.
[6] Plutarch, De oraculor. defectu.
[7] 2 Apol. vi.
[8] Apol. xxiii.
[9] St Mark xvi 17.
[10] Is. xiv 12-15.
[11] Apoc. xii 7-9.
[12] Apoc. xiii 7.
[13] Apolog. xxiii.
[14] 2 Thess. ii 8.