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From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

ONE of the titles of the Divine Spirit, who is reigning so specially over this portion of the cycle, is the Witness of the Word.[1] Thus was he announced to the world, by the Man-God himself, when about to quit it in order to return to his Father, after having, on his part, rendered his own great testimony to sovereign Truth.[2] Formed by the Holy Ghost on the type of Jesus Christ, the faithful too are witnesses, whose mission is to trample upon lying error, the enemy of God, by expressing the truth, not in words only, but in deeds. There is a testimony, however, that is not given unto all to render, this is the testimony of blood; the martyrs hold this privilege, this is the special stand granted to them in the ceaseless battle ever being waged betwixt truth and falsehood, and this battle is the sum total of all history. Hence martyrs come crowding on the brilliant heavens of holy Church at this season. In a few days the Church will be all thrilling with gladness at the birth of St John the Baptist, that man great beyond all men,[3] whose greatness especially consists in that he was sent by God to be a witness, to give testimony of the light.[4] We shall then meditate at leisure upon these thoughts, for which we seem to be prepared by the ever swelling groups of joyous martyrs, who cross our path as it were to announce the near approach of the friend of the Bridegroom.[5]

To-day we have Vitus, accompanied by his faithful foster-parents, Modestus and Crescentia. He is but a child, yet he comes teaching us the price of Baptism and the fidelity we owe to our Father in heaven, despite all else beside. Great is his glory, both on earth and in heaven; the demons, who used to tremble before him in life, still continue their dread of him. His name remains ineffaceably inscribed on the memory of the Christian people, like that of St Elmo or Erasmus, among their most potent ‘helpers’ in daily needs. St Vitus, or more commonly St Guy, is invoked to deliver those who are attacked by that lamentable sickness which is named from him, as also to neutralize the bad effects from the bite of a mad dog; and his beneficence is evinced even to the dumb brutes also. He is likewise implored in cases of lethargy or unduly prolonged sleep; for this reason the cock is his distinctive attribute in Christian art, as well as because recourse is usually had to this saint when one wants to awake at some particular hour.

Let us now turn to what the liturgy relates of these saints:

Vitus admodum puer inscio patre baptizatus est: quod cum ille rescivisset, nihil prætermisit quo filium a Christiana religione removeret. Qua in voluntate permanentem Valeriano judici verberibus castigandum tradidit. Sed nihilominus in sententia persistens, patri redditus est. Sed dum eum pater gravius punire cogitat, Vitus, angeli monitu, comitibus Modesto et Crescentia ejus educatoribus, migrat in alienas terras: ibique eam sanctitatis laudem adeptus est, ut ejus fama ad Diocletianum perlata, ipsum imperator accerseret ut filium suum a dæmone vexatum liberaret: quo liberato, cum ei amplissimis præmiis ingratus imperator ut deos coleret persuadere non potuisset, una cum Modesto et Crescentia, vinculis constrictum mittit in carcerem. Quos ubi constantiores esse comperit, demitti jubet in ingens vas liquato plumbo ferventi resina ac pice plenum: in quo cum, trium Hebræorum puerorum more, divinos hymnos canerent, inde erepti, leoni objiciuntur; qui prosternens se, eorum pedes lambebat. Quare inflammatus ira imperator, quod multitudinem videbat miraculo commoveri, eos in catasta sterni jubet et ita cædi eorum membra atque ossa divelli. Quo tempore tomtrua, fulgura, magnique terræmotus fuere quibus templa deorum corruerunt et multi oppressi sunt. Eorum reliquias Florentia, nobilis femina, unguentis conditas honorifice sepelivit.
Vitus while yet a child was baptized unknown to his father. When his father found this out, he used his best endeavours to dissuade his son from the Christian religion, but as he found him persistent in it, he handed him over to Valerian, the judge, to be whipped. But as he still remained as unshaken as before, he was given back to his father. But while his father was turning over in his mind to what severe discipline to subject him, Vitus, being warned by an angel, fled to another country, in company with Modestus and Crescentia, who had brought him up. There he gained great praise for holiness, so that his fame reached Diocletian. The emperor, therefore, sent for him to deliver his own child that was possessed by a devil. Vitus delivered him; but when the emperor found that with all his gifts he could not bring him to worship the gods, he had the ingratitude to cast him, as well as Modestus and Crescentia, into prison, binding them with fetters. But when they were found, in the prison, more faithful than ever to their confession, the emperor commanded them to be thrown into a great vessel full of burning resin and pitch and melted lead. Therein they, like the three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace, sang praise to God; and upon that they were dragged out and cast to a lion; but he only lay down before them and licked their feet. Then the emperor, being filled with fury, more especially because he saw that the multitude that looked on were stirred up by the miracle, commanded Vitus, Modestus, and Crescentia to be stretched upon a block and their limbs crushed so that their bones were broken. While they were dying, there came thunder and lightnings and earthquakes, so that the temples of the gods fell down, and many men were killed. Their remains were gathered up by a noble lady named Florentia, who, embalming them with spices, honourably buried them.

You have won the battle, glorious martyrs! The struggle was not long, but it gained for you an eternal crown! You have purchased unto yourselves, O Modestus and Crescentia, the everlasting gratitude of your God himself, for unto him ye faithfully gave back the precious charge committed to your keeping, in the person of that dear child who became your own through faith and baptism. And thou too, nobie boy, who didst prefer thy Father in heaven to thine earthly parent, who may tell the caressing tenderness lavished upon thee eternally by him whom before men thou didst so unflinchingly own to be thy true Father? Even here below he is pleased to load thee with striking marks of his munificence; for to thee he confides, on a large scale, the exercise of his merciful power. Because of that holy liberty, which reigned in thy soul from reason’s earliest dawn, whereby thy body was subjected to thy soul’s control, thou dost now hold over fallen nature a marvellous power. Unhappy sufferers whose distorted limbs are worked violently at the caprice of a cruel malady, and are no longer mastered by the will; or, on the other hand, those who are rendered powerless and no longer free to act by reason of resistless sleep—all these recover at thy feet that perfect harmony of soul and body, that needful docility of the material to the spiritual, whereby man may freely attend to the duties incumbent on him, whether as regards God or his neighbour. Vouchsafe to be ever more and more lavish in the granting of these favours, which are the precious gifts specially at thy disposal, for the good of suffering mankind, and for the greater glory of thy God who hath given thee an eternal crown. We implore of God, in the words of the Church, that by thy merits he may destroy in us that pride which spoils the equilibrium of man himself and makes him deviate from his path. May it be granted to us to have a thorough contempt of evil, for thus is restored to man liberty in love: ‘Not to be proud-minded, but to make progress by pleasing humility; that, despising what is evil, we may exercise with free charity the things which are right.’[6]

[1] St John xv 26.
[2] Ibid. xviii 37.
[3] St Matt. xi 11.
[4] St John i 6-8.
[5] Ibid. iii 29.
[6] Collect of the day.

 

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

All the Churches of the east, in the different tongues of their several liturgies, celebrate the glory of Julitta and of Cyr: they all extol the holy duality of the son and the mother containing in itself the perfect worship of the Trinity.[1] For the oblation of this mother and her son is itself united to the sacrifice of the Son of God: such are in very deed the rights of the holy Trinity, rights resulting in the case of every Christian from the first of our Sacraments; absolute rights over both body and soul of even the smallest baby; such were the rights confessed by St. Julitta and her little Cyr; yes, consecrated by their blood in one common oblation. The world was reminded yesterday, in St. Vitus, of a truth too easily forgotten by a generation, such as ours, more destitute of knowledge than of love: God’s paternity is more complete than that of any earthly father, and likewise outstrips all other in the gravity of the duties it imposes on His sons. This teaching is still more strongly repeated today, and it is addressed in the first place to parents more particularly.

Iconium, the native land of Thecla the protomartyr of the female sex, was likewise the home of Julitta. She, a fair flower budding forth from a royal stock of ancient kings was to secure to her native town a renown far more lasting than did all the mighty deeds of her princely ancestors. The splendid fame inherited by this daughter of the ancient kings of Lycaonia, was nothing in her eyes compared to that which came to her through Christ. The title of Christian was the only one she made any account of in presence of the judges on the day of her glorious triumph. Her gifts of fortune were considerable; but never did earth’s riches captivate her thoughts; and still less so from the moment God granted her a son. All treasures heaped together in one could never be comparable to that which she now held in her arms, to that child confided by her Lord to the watchful care of her maternal love. Had not Baptism turned this frail little body into a temple of the Holy Ghost? Was not this peerless soul an object of delight to the eternal Father, who could see mirrored in its limpid innocence the true features of His well-beloved Son? Therefore, with what ineffable tenderness, with what religious watchfulness, did this mother surround her babe who still continued to draw life from her own breast; there developing, day by day, like a delicate plant under the genial ray of the Sun of justice! Far was she from being one of those who, without sufficient reason, pass on to another the care of nurturing the fruit they themselves have borne. As if nature itself must not recoil from such substitution, too often as disastrous to the body as to the soul of these tender little beings; as if, above all, it were not the incommunicable duty of a Christian mother and her most glorious privilege, to be ever on the watch about her child, so as to turn to God the first dawn of its wakening intelligence and the first movement of its free will. Julitta overflowed with gladness, for she knew and felt that God was blessing that which was henceforth to be her life-long cherished labour. The milk which she was giving him was impregnating her little son with the manly boldness of her race, made braver still, because over-ruled by the dear name of the Lord Jesus. Rome, all-conquering as she deemed herself, was soon to make trial thereof and own herself vanquished.

The frightful persecution of Diocletian’s day was then convulsing the earth; his bloody edicts were already posted up in Iconium. Julitta feared nothing for herself, but she dreaded the probability of pagan masters educating her boy, were she violently tom from him by torments and death. She saw that she must needs sacrifice all to this her primary duty of preserving her child’s soul, of which she was guardian. Without hesitating a moment, she fled to a foreign land, leaving home, family, and riches, bearing away her one life’s treasure. Two handmaids who followed her through devotedness, could not prevail upon her to let them ease her occasionally of her precious burden. When God, who delights in sating His angels’ gaze with a spectacle fair as this, permitted her to fall into the hands of the persecutor, ever was she beheld still bearing her boy in her arms. Julitta and Cyr are inseparable; together they needs must appear before the judge, through whose cruelty they are to be together crowned in bliss.

Further on, we give the admirable scene that at once graced earth and ravished heaven. Let us remark that these details are as authentic as can possibly be, and are admitted by Dom Ruinart into his collection of Actes sincères. But let us also remember that he alone thoroughly honours the saints by the study of their history, who profits by the lessons they have left to the world. Recent attacks on education have but too well proved that the heroism of Julitta is by no means intended to be a dead letter, or an object of mere futile admiration; but rather that it is meant to serve as an example, called in thousands of cases into absolute and practical requisition by the troubles of these present times. Duty does not alter from century to century; the difficulty of fulfilling it, which may indeed vary with circumstances of time and place, removes nothing of the inflexibility of its imperative demands.

On the other hand, let us not forget that the Church herself is likewise a mother, and that she too owns it her bounden duty to suckle her children. Never have her protestations been hushed against the tyrants of any century who would separate her little ones from her. If then it should happen that a violent blow be so dealt as to tear a child from the arms of mother Church, then he must know that it becomes a duty for him to imitate the brave little son of Julitta. Is he not likewise a son of the Dove? Then let him prove himself so; let him become holily obstinate in repeating that one word ‘holy Church’; let him struggle to reach her all the more vigorously in proportion as efforts are made to drag him farther from her. How could he but abhor the odious caresses of one who would dare to assume her place in his regard? All other means failing, who would but applaud if he, like St. Cyr, were to repulse by such means as his feebleness can permit, the hand that would kill his body? And is the soul that is in him less precious? and if need be, must he not sacrifice even his own body to save his soul? We certainly ought to think so: and does it not seem that Providence had the future in view, when, at so early a date, He permitted the precious relics of this son and mother to be brought to France?

The century that witnessed their bloody sacrifice to God had not run out, ere Cyr and Julitta seemed to choose the Gallic shore for their adopted home: an emigration fraught with graces for France! Scarce had the turmoil of invasion ceased, than numberless sanctuaries were raised in honour of their loved name; which circumstance proves how popular was their cultus amongst the chivalrous sons of the Franks. The symbol used in Christian art to distinguish St. Cyr is a wild boar; the reason is that Charlemagne was miraculously delivered from the fangs of one of these savage brutes by the intercession of St. Cyr. In thanksgiving, the cathedral of Nevers rebuilt by this emperor was placed under the invocation of this sainted child, who, together with his mother, is patron of the whole diocese, wherein no fewer than four feasts are celebrated in their honour during the year.

The various Churches that keep the feast of Saints Cyr and Julitta borrow the Lessons of their Office from the following celebrated letter written regarding them, in the sixth century, by Theodore, bishop of Iconium. The text we here give is taken from the Proper of the Church of Villejuif near Paris, which is richly endowed with their relics. Indeed the name Villejuif is said to be a popular corruption of Villa-Julittæ.

Ex Epistola Theodori, episcopi Iconiensis, de passione SS. Cyrici et Julittæ.

Julitta Iconiorum regio orta semine, cum vehementior in christianos sæviret persecutio, Domitiano Lycaoniæ comite, fuga se cum duabus ancillis trimuloque filio suo Cyrico, Iconio, unde et orta erat, proripuit. Substantia itaque qua valde locuples erat relicta, Seleuciam pervenit: quo ipso loco turbatas magis res christianorum offendens, Alexandro quodam Seleuciæ præside a Diocletiano constituto, a quo ipso recens edictum accepisset, quo jubebantur omni tormentorum genere excruciari qui idolis non immolarent, Tarsum abiit. Velut autem ex condito, commigrante illuc immani ac durissimo Alexandro, comprehenditur inclyta victrix martyr Julitta, suis ipsa ulnis tenella valde ætate puellum Cyricum complectens. Illa tribunali adhibita, nomenque ac fortunam, patriamque ab Alexandro rogata, præsidenti animo respondens judici, Domini nostri Jesu Christi sibi nomen adscivit, dicens: Christiana sum. Ira itaque accensus Alexander, tolli ab ea puerum jussit, ac ad se adduci: matrem vero distentam crudis nervis immaniter cædi imperavit.

Vi autem abs strenuæ matris sinu avulsum puerum, totumque in matrem gestientem, nec ab ea ocellos avocantem, carnifices prætori afferunt. Acceptum prætor manu puerum blande deliniens, a fletu cohibere omnino nitebatur, genibusque impositum accipere osculo conabatur. Puer vero, intentis in matrem luminibus, prætorem abs se submovebat ac caput avertebat: manibusque obnitens, prætoris faciem unguiculis scalpebat; velut denique castæ turturis pullus, aemulam sanctus Cyricus vocem pronuntiavit, eamdem ipsius matris prædicationem edens, ac damans: Christianus sum. Calcibus quoque judicis latus petebat; quamobrem excandens agrestis illa fera, nec enim homo nuncupandus sit qui nec in rudem ac innoxiam mitescat ætatem, pede arreptum e sublimi solio puerumterræ allidit. Præclari vero martyris cerebro ea in confessione ad graduum angulos colliso, circum late tribunalis area cruore opplebatur. Julitta exsuperanti gaudio repleta: Gratias tibi ago, Domine, aiebat, quod filium me priorem consummatum, immarcescibilem coronam dignanter consequi voluisti.

Judex sortem ipse deplorans, suspensæ ligno seu equuleo valide fodi latera exque lebete haustam picem bullientem pedibus affundi jubet. Tumque præconis voce jubente, atque dicente: Julitta, tui ipsa miserere, diisque sacrifica, ne eamdem ac filius malam necem reportaveris; generoso illa proposito tormenta pertulit, damans ac dicens: Ego dæmonibus non sacrifico, sed Christum Dei Filium unigenitum colo, per quem Pater condidit omnia, ac festino meum assequi filium, quo illi socia in regno cœlomm efficiar. Ubi, omnem vincens insaniam, sævus judex constantem in pugna advertit martyris animum, adversus eam sententiam dicit, cædi gladio feminæ cervicem, filii cadaver in damnatorum locum projici jubens. Consummatur Christi gratia tum triumphatrix martyr Julitta, tum gloriosus atque inclytus ejus filius Cyricus, decimo septimo Kalendas Augusti. Hos martyres patronos ecclesia Nivernensis agnoscit, necnon et inter alias plures ecclesias et monasteria hujusce regni, vicus prope Parisios Villa Judæa dictus, qui utriusque Martyris reliquiarum non modica portione gloriatur, et cum summa veneratione colit.
From the letter of Theodore, bishop of Iconium, concerning the martyrdom of Saints Cyr and Julitta.

Julitta was born of the royal stock of Iconium. Persecution raging under Domitian, the governor of Lycaonia, she fled from her native city, together with two handmaids and her son, named Cyr, aged three. Having thus abandoned all her property, which was considerable, she came to Seleucia. But there she found the Christians suffering even more. Alexander, the president placed there by Diocletian, had just received the emperor’s edict ordering all such as refused to adore the idols to be subjected to every kind of torture. Julitta therefore travelled to Tarsus. Now, just as though he were purposely pursuing her, Alexander, that hard and harsh man, arrived at Tarsus as soon as she. Our noble victrix Julitta the martyr was arrested, bearing in her arms her little son Cyr of tender age. Being brought before the tribunal, Alexander demanded her name, condition, and country. She boldly replied, sheltering herself under the only name of our Lord Jesus Christ: ‘I am a Christian.’ Alexander, inflamed with rage, commanded that the child should be taken from his mother and brought to him, whilst she was being beaten cruelly with the sinews of oxen.

Only by main force could they drag the child from his mother’s bosom, for be kept clinging close unto her; and when at last tom from her, he kept urging towards her with all possible movements of his little limbs, nor would he take his eyes off her, and thus the executioners handed him to the president. He, having got him in his grasp, began caressing the child, striving to stay his tears, dancing him on his knee, and trying to force the poor babe to let him kiss him. All to no purpose; the boy would fix big eyes only upon his mother, pushing the president away and turning his little head from him: then making use of his hands he began to scratch the president’s face; at last like to the little nestling of the chaste dove, he would imitate the voice of his mother, and pronounce the very same confession he heard his mother making, crying out thus: ‘I am a Christian.’ Then did he kick with his feet against the sides of the judge. No longer able to restrain his fury, this savage beast (for man he cannot be termed, who could not be touched by this tender harmless age), seized the babe by the foot, and ruthlessly flung him to the ground. The brains of this noble martyr were thus dashed out against the sharp comers of the steps, in the very act of this confession, and the ground all about the tribunal was bespattered with his blood. Julitta exulting for joy cried out aloud: ‘I give thee thanks, O Lord, that thou hast been pleased that my son should consummate his sacrifice, before myself, and that thou hast therefore given unto him the unfading crown!’

The judge ashamed of himself and still more infuriated, caused Julitta to be now hoisted on the rack; commanding her sides likewise to be tom, and boiling pitch to be poured upon her feet. During the execution, a crier proclaimed: ‘Julitta, take pity on thyself and sacrifice to the gods; dread the same unhappy death that hath befallen thy son.’ But the valiant martyr unmoved in the midst of torments cried out, in her turn: ‘I will never sacrifice to demons, but I pay homage to Christ, the only Son of God, by whom the Father created all things; I am in haste to rejoin my child, and so be united to him for ever in the heavenly kingdom.’ Then the cruel judge, pushing his folly to the last extreme, pronounced his sentence against her whose constancy he despaired of vanquishing in combat: ‘This woman,’ so ran the sentence, ‘shall have her head cut off by a sword, and the body of her son shall be thrown where criminals corpses are cast.’ It was on the seventeenth of the Kalends of August that Julitta the noble martyr, and Cyr her glorious son consummated their triumph, through the grace of Jesus Christ. The church of Nevers claims them as her patrons, as do likewise many other churches and monasteries of the kingdom, amongst which the parish of Villejuif, near Paris, glories in possessing a considerable portion of the relics of these two martyrs, and surrounds them with highest veneration.

Thy desire is fulfilled, O Julitta, thou hast rejoined thy child! Ye form conjointly a fair ornament of the heavens, just as on earth ye were inseparable. The angels are in admiration at the sight of such a mother and child united thus in endless praise unto the thrice holy God. They realize the great truth that the creation of their sublime hierarchies exhausted not the Wisdom of the Creator. The nine choirs, all unfolded simultaneously beneath the gaze of the Eternal, communicated light and love one to the other in perfect order; there was nought to betoken in the wondrous assemblage any further design of the Lord, conceived in favour of other created beings to be equally brought into relationship with Himself, for His glory’s sake. Yet so it was to be: human nature has this advantage over the angelical, namely, that it imitates, in its manner of intercommunication, the essential relation of God the Father and of His Word; that which the highest Seraphim can say to none, man in his own person can repeat to his fellow man, that utterance of God Himself: ‘Thou art my son!’ This filiation, without which man cannot attain to the terrestrial, perishable life of this lower world, he again receives a second time, none the less really, yea, eternally, in the supernatural order; for nature is but a frail image of the realities which are the portion of God’s elect. Thus was it, O Julitta, that thou didst become, twice over, the mother of that saintly child thou didst bear in thine arms. How far was thy first maternity outstripped by the second, whereby thou didst bring him forth unto glory! In intensity of suffering, likewise, did this second childbirth of thy martyrdom outdo the first; but this is only the law common to all maternity since the fall: the sentence that touched Eve1 has its echo even in the world of grace.

Now dost thou remember no longer thy travails! The sacrifice of mother and of son, begun in the anguish of a dolorous confession, has this day become a sacrifice of praise and of gladness. For this your mutual oblation is continued in heaven: it remains for ever the basis of those powerful and sweet relations wherein God finds His glory; it is the source of those benedictions which the Lord showers upon earth on your account. Would then, O holy martyrs, that you could hasten the return of the east to the true light; that east which gave you life, and to which, in return, you gave your precious blood! Bless the west also, where so many churches are raised to your honour and celebrate your feast. May France especially, your second country, ever feel the potent effects of a patronage that can be traced on historic annals, up to the earliest dates of her existence. Charlemagne, that mighty emperor, on his knees before thee, O Cyr, is a fact all eloquent of thy powerful intercession, O thou little son of Julitta! Nevers too, in these our own days, can prove the same; for to thee she justly attributes her preservation from the Prussian invasion, when all the neighbourhood was devastated by the hostile troops!

At present not only France, but other countries, are suffering from trials worse even than invasion, trials in many ways resembling yours, O holy martyrs! Uphold the faith in the breasts of mothers, O Julitta; uphold their Christian instincts to the full height of the lofty teachings conveyed in the story of thy glorious combat. In the face of tyranny which would fain lay grasping hold on education in view of the immortal souls of children, do thou, O Cyr, stir up among these little ones faithful imitators of thyself! Not long ago some have shown this noble spirit; under the hateful pressure of impious masters who persisted in dictating to them lessons condemned by holy Church, they dared to write out nothing but the Credo they had learned at their mother’s knee. Well done, brave and noblehearted children! Thou, O Cyr, didst surely thrill with gladness at such a sight, rivalling thee in magnanimity. All then is not lost for France and these other afflicted lands. May thine intercession, blended with that of thy mother, develop more and more in the breasts of the little ones of God’s Church, this consciousness of the holy liberty which is their portion by their very Baptism. Such consciousness as this, maintained and exhibited, the while it bends them in dutiful submission to all power emanating from God, will nevertheless prevail at last over the prince of this world with his Cæsarism!Yea, the very safety of society depends on such noble Christian independence in face of all abuse of power!


[1] Sticheron Byzantii, ad diem xv. Julii

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

ST EPHRAEM, monk and deacon, the contemporary of St Athanasius, St Basil, St Gregory of Nazianzen and St Gregory of Nyssa, was with them one of the glories of the Christian East so rich in testimonies to faith and sanctity during the first centuries. He takes his place in the liturgical cycle among the doctors of the Universal Church. It is only fitting that the ancient piety of Edessa and Nisibis should be represented in the Roman calendar.

by him who was always held to be the most illustrious of her sons. St Ephraem was honoured by the whole Church for the depth and vastness of his doctrine, and the whole Catholic world rejoiced when Pope Benedict XV pronounced him worthy to be placed among the great doctors of the Church both Greek and Latin. No one was more worthy than the celebrated Deacon of Edessa of such an honour. Even during his lifetime men delighted to honour him with such titles as illustrious ‘ doctor of the universe,' ‘prophet and sun of the Syrians,’ ‘pillar of the Church,' and ‘harp of the Holy Spirit.’[1] All the Orthodox fathers and doctors from St Basil, St John Chrysostom and St Jerome down to St Francis de Sales and St Alphonsus Liguori are unanimous in his praise.[2]Seldom has reputation been more brilliant, authority more universally acknowledged than that of the humble Syrian monk: less than twenty years after his death his writings were read publicly in church after the Scriptures.[3] As theologian, poet and orator his literary work was immense. His writings comprise commentaries on the Scriptures, theological discourses and poems, moral and ascetic treatises, hymns in praise of Almighty God, our Lady and the saints. These form an inestimable treasure where successive generations have found not only weapons wherewith to combat error but also food to strengthen their souls. The works of St Ephraem, written in Syriac, were at an early date translated not only into Greek, but also into all the languages of the East—Coptic, Ethiopian, Arabic and Armenian—so that his hymns and canticles are to be found in all the liturgical books of the Syriac Church, both Orthodox and Uniate, which thus remains indebted to his fruitful genius.

St Ephraem was bom in Mesopotamia, very probably at Nisibis, on the frontier of the Roman Empire and Persia, at the beginning of the fourth century. Tradition says that his father fulfilled the duties of a priest to an idol in that town, but that his mother may have been a Christian.[4] In any case he does not appear ever to have taken part in idolatrous worship, for we know that in his youth he was a member of the household of James, the bishop of Nisibis, one of the three hundred and eighteen fathers of the Council of Nicæa. He received baptism, and under the guidance of this bishop gave himself to prayer, to all the practices of Christian asceticism, to reading and profound study of the Scriptures. It was during this time that he acquired his remarkable knowledge and love of the Holy Scriptures so noticeable in all his writings and which is one of his chief characteristics. Later on he said: 'He who applies himself with simplicity and purity of heart to the study of the Sacred Books will receive the knowledge of God. Some people glory in conversing familiarly with the great ones of the earth, with princes and kings, but let it be your glory to converse with the Holy Ghost in the presence of the angels of God by reading the divine Scriptures, for it is the Holy Ghost who there speaks to you. Spare no pains to become familiar with this study.’[5]

The first verses of 'Hymns of Nisibis' show us what Ephraem was to James and his successors. These poems, the earliest of his that have come down to us, give us a picture of the times in which he lived. James, Babou and Vologesus found him a zealous auxiliary, intent upon upholding their authority, drawing men to them and ardently desirous of reform. His great influence on the people was shown especially when Nisibis was besieged by Sapor, king of the Persians. During those perilous days he incessantly encouraged the citizens to resist the enemy, strengthening the besieged by his word and example, until his courage and his prayer forced the enemy to acknowledge their powerlessness and retire. Later on, when as a result of the disastrous campaign of the emperor Julian against the Persians, his successor Jovian was forced to cede Eastern Mesopotamia with Nisibis to Sapor, Ephraem joined the emigrants who left for ever a town where Christians could no longer dwell in security.

From Nisibis St Ephraem went to Edessa, which name is for ever associated with his. On the west of the town there rises a hill on whose rocky slopes are numerous caves and tombs in which lived many anchorites. St Ephraem in his turn came to seek, among the rocks of the holy mountain, a retreat which would enable him to devote himself to prayer, study and penitential exercises. His knowledge of sacred sciences, however, could not long remain hidden, and disciples soon began to gather around him. This was the period of his literary activity, which was so great as to be almost miraculous. It was during the ten years that he passed in the capital of Osrhoene that he wrote most of his works. It was also the period of his greatest activity in religious affairs, and it seems certain that the School of Edessa, famous under the name of the Persian School, owes to him, if not its existence, at least a great part of its renown.

However, Edessa could not escape the ravages to which the spread of the heresies of Arms, Manes, Marcion and other sowers of discord subjected the whole world, and we owe a great number of St Ephraem’s theological discourses and poems to his solicitude in combating heresy under all its forms, and to his care in safeguarding the purity of faith among the Christians of the town. In obedience to the inspiration of divine grace,[6] he left his solitude for a time to pour forth to the faithful exhortations so rich in imagery, so full of unction and of doctrine, that to this day the heart of the reader is moved. The holy doctor inveighs with much vigour against the Arians, who deny the Divinity of Christ. The following passage occurs in one of his sermons on the Passion: ‘The King of kings who is above all kings is the only Saviour Jesus, who sits at the right hand of his Father. He is his Word, his strength, his mighty arm; he descended from the height of heaven to the depths of the earth and ascended into heaven. He came down in secret, he ascended openly, he came down as the Word, he ascended with a human body, he descended and ascended according to his own will. Blessed be he who has acted according to his power. Men should be astonished and should admire the providence of the author of all grace who has abased himself even to us. Blessed be he who in his goodness has drawn from the ocean of his mercy the life that he has bestowed upon us. The Son of God is God, and God of God, he descended from heaven and conversed upon earth, he the power of preaching. The consuming fire which fell from heaven has become a dew for mankind, he who is all on fire has hidden his flame, the vehement God has restrained himself, there is no thunder in his voice nor lightning in his movements, the terrible God has hidden his majesty, the powerful God his force, wholly in heaven, he was wholly upon earth. When you consider him in heaven there is nothing to which you can liken him; when you consider him upon earth he seems to you to be simply a man. If you look towards heaven millions of angels serve him, and seraphim without number cry before him, Holy, holy, holy. If you look towards earth he is confined in a human body. “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but he who is the Son of God has not where to lay his head.”[7] Indeed, where could he, who is the refuge of all, have sought shelter? Where could he have rested his head, he who is the pillar that sustains the universe, who upholds the earth and the heavens in either hand, and who in the hollow of his hand holds the seas and the world?’[8]

With equal energy and with remarkable doctrinal precision, St Ephraem asserts the prerogatives of St Peter. In the person of our Lord speaking to Simon Peter he says: ‘I have established you, Simon my disciple, as the foundation of holy Church. Formerly I called you Peter because you upheld my building, you are the overseer of those who construct the Church upon earth. If they wish to build that which is evil, you, who are the foundation, will prevent them. You are at the source of my doctrine, you are the chief of my disciples, it is through you that I will quench the thirst of all nations, the quickening sweetness that I give belongs to you, I have chosen you as the firstfruits of my disciples to be the inheritor of my treasures. I have given you the keys of my kingdom; I have given all my treasures into your power.’[9]

It is interesting to receive such testimony from the mouth of him whom all the Eastern Christians reverence as their greatest doctor and consider their special glory. But few of the fathers of the first centuries of Christianity have spoken so explicitly on the subject of the Holy Eucharist as the Deacon of Edessa. He discredits in advance all the sophistry put forth at the time of the Reformation, and thus comments on the words of the institution of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Lord: ‘Do not believe that what I have just given to you is bread, receive it, eat it, do not crumble it away. That which I have called my Body, truly is so. The smallest morsel is sufficient to sanctify millions of souls and suffices to give life to those who receive it. Receive and eat with faith, do not waver, for it is my Body, and he who partakes of it with faith partakes of the fire of the Holy Spirit. It seems to him who partakes without faith to be but ordinary bread, but to him who with faith partakes of the Bread consecrated in my name, if he be pure it preserves his purity, if a sinner it obtains his pardon. Let those who reject, despise or outrage this Bread know that of a certainty they do outrage to the Son, who has called and has made bread to be his Body. Take and eat, and by it partake of the Holy Spirit, for it is truly my Body, and he who eats thereof has eternal life. It is the Bread of heaven come down from on high unto us. The manna which the Israelites ate in the desert, the manna which they gathered and which they despised although it fell from heaven, was a figure of the spiritual food you have just received. Take ye all of it and eat, in eating this Bread you eat my Body, the true source of the redemption.’[10]

In St Ephraem's time the people of Edessa still took pleasure in the poetical compositions of Bardesanes and his son Harmonius. A hundred and fifty years previously these impious men had spread abroad the errors of Gnosticism by means of these writings, and therefore St Ephraem, in his indefatigable zeal for the purity of the faith, resolved to defeat the heresy with its own arms. ‘When he saw how the inhabitants of Edessa delighted in songs,’ says his biographer, ‘he instituted plays and dances of his own for the young folk. He established choirs of nuns, whom he taught to sing hymns having a refrain between the verses. These hymns embody beautiful thoughts and spiritual instruction on the Nativity, the Baptism, the Fast and deeds of our Lord, the Passion, Resurrection and Ascension, as well as on the confessors, on Penance and the faithful departed. The religious came together on Sunday, on great feasts and on the festivals of the martyrs, and he in the midst of them like a father accompanied them on his harp. He divided them into two choirs, so that they might sing alternately, and taught them the various musical airs with such success that the whole town came to listen. Thus his adversaries were put to shame and disappeared.[11]

Readers of the Liturgical Year will have often noticed and admired the spirit of faith and tender piety which fills the poems of St Ephraem, whether he celebrates the mystery of the birth of our Saviour and borrows the voices of the Shepherds and Magi to render homage to the Infant God,[12] or whether he extols the humility of St John the Baptist,[13] or, again, in order to console mourners, he sings of the happiness of young children caught up to heaven in their innocence.[14] But never does this harp of the Holy Ghost sound forth in more harmonious tones than when it sings of Mary and extols her incomparable virginity, her divine maternity or her merciful protection of mankind.[15] It is well known that the eloquent Deacon of Edessa was one of the earliest of the fathers whose testimony to the privilege of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin was brought forward. He addresses our Lord and his Mother in these words: 'Thou, O Lord, and thy Mother are the only ones who are perfectly beautiful in every respect, for in thee, O Lord, there is no blemish, and in thy Mother there is no stain.’[16] The last years of St Ephraem's life were marked by an heroic act which seems to have made a great impression upon his contemporaries. There was a terrible famine in Edessa, which brought many other evils in its train. Moved by so much suffering, the holy anchorite left his cell for a time and took up his abode in the town. By his fervent exhortations he implored the rich to come to the help of their less fortunate fellow-citizens, and he knew how to call forth abundant alms, which he himself distributed. At the same time, by his arrangement, all who were sick were brought together, and night and day he laboured to procure for them such assistance and relief as the nature of their case demanded. He did not abandon his charitable ministrations until the city again enjoyed food in plenty.

St Ephraem returned once more to his solitude, and, feeling that his end was near, he composed for his disciples his last testament, a touching discourse of considerable length in which the dominant features of his character shine forth—his faith, hope, charity, humility, and zeal for the orthodox belief. We quote a few passages which reveal the characteristics of the soul of this great monk.

I, Ephraem, am dying, and I am writing a last testament so that I may leave to each one a souvenir in order that my friends may remember me even if only on account of my words. Alas! my life is finished and the term of my years is ended. The warp is finished and the threads must be cut. The lamp is nearly empty of oil, my days and my hours are fled away. The hired soldier has completed his year, the stranger has finished his time. My guards and executioners surround me on all sides. I groan and there is none to hear; I ask mercy and there is none to deliver me. Woe is thee, Ephraem, because of the judgement when thou wilt appear before the tribunal of the Son and thine acquaintance will stand on either side of thee. There will be thy shame; woe to him who shall be confounded there. O Jesus, be thou the Judge of Ephraem; do not hand him over to another to be judged, for he whom God will judge shall receive mercy at the tribunal.

I swear by him who descended from Mount Sinai, and who spoke upon the rock, by his mouth who said Eloi, and the bowels of the earth were shaken, by him who was sold by Judas and scourged in Jerusalem, by the might of him who was buffeted and by the majesty of him who was spit upon, by the three fiery names and by the one authority and will, that I have never separated myself from the Church nor have I ever doubted the power of God. If in my mind I have ever magnified the Father more than the Son may I be deprived of his loving mercy, and if I have ever lessened the authority of the Holy Spirit may blindness come upon me. If my life has not been in conformity with my speech may I be cast into exterior darkness, and if I speak hypocritically may I bum with the ungodly. If I recount these things through pride may our Lord condemn me at the judgement. . . .

When I think of my past life my knees tremble and my teeth chatter, and when I call to mind my deeds I am overcome with horror. For I have never done anything good, nothing worthy of praise since the day of my birth. Do not embalm me for burial, such honour is not due to me; do not place sweet perfumes upon my body, I am not worthy of such distinction. Bum the incense in the sanctuary, but encompass me with your prayers. Offer sweet perfumes to God and chant psalms for my soul. Instead of pouring perfumes and sweet savours over my body remember me in your prayers, for of what use are sweet odours to a dead man who has no senses with which to perceive them? Carry your incense to the house of God and there bum it that others may benefit thereby. Do not bury that which decays in silk which is useless to it, but rather leave in the pit that which cannot appreciate honours. Luxury belongs to the rich, the dunghill to the poor. Authority belongs to the royal family, but abjection and humility to the stranger and wayfarer. ...

Come, brethren, hearken unto me, for it is decreed that I may live no longer. Help me on my journey by your prayers, psalms and sacrifices. When the thirty days are over make a memento of me, brethren, for the dead are helped by the masses offered by the living. . . .

The one thing that gives me courage and hope before God is that I have never insulted my Saviour and no blasphemy has ever been uttered by my lips. Those who hated thee, Lord, I have hated and have abhorred thy enemies.[17] Write my words upon your hearts and be mindful of what I say, for after I am dead evil persons will come among you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.[18] Their speech is sweet, but the desires of their hearts are bitter; they have the appearance of good, but they are the messengers of Satan. Fly from them and from their doctrines; do not go near them, for you know that whoever is found in a place where outrage has been offered to the king has to come into court to be questioned according to law. Even if he can prove he was not guilty he will be condemned for want of zeal. Do not sit with heretics nor associate with apostates. It would be better to dwell with a demon than with a renegade. For if you abjure the demon he will flee, for he cannot stand before the name of Jesus, but even were you to exorcise the apostate ten thousand times he would not cease from his wickedness nor renounce his folly. It would be better to teach demons than to try to convince heretics. Demons bore witness, saying, “Thou art the Son of God,”[19] but infidels and heretics daily contend pertinaciously that he is not the Son of God. Satan himself who dwells in them confesses the truth, but they assiduously deny it. . . .

O my disciples, hear my precepts and be mindful of my words. Do not depart from my faith nor be untrue to my lessons. When you hear of seditions and tumults in the world be constant and hold fast to the truth and your faith. . . .

Farewell, my friends, and pray for me, my beloved. The time has come for the merchant to return to his own country. Woe is me, my merchandise is gone and my riches are all spent. No one weeps over the death of the holy, because they pass from death to life; but weep for me, brethren, for we have wasted our days and hours in idleness. May peace abide on the earth and may her sons be joyful. May peace abide in the Church and may the persecution of the malicious cease. May the wicked become just and be converted from their sins.

Hail, O angel guide, who leadest the soul out of the body, parting them asunder that they may remain separated until the general resurrection. . . .[20]

Let us now read the account given of the illustrious Deacon of Edessa by the Church in her office of matins. The lessons record the chief features of this fruitful life.

Ephraem, genere Syrus, Nisibeno patre natus est. Adhuc juvenis ad sanctum Jacobum episcopum se contulit, a quo baptizatus, brevi ita sanctitate et doctrina profecit, ut in schola Nisibi, Mesopotamiæ urbe, fiorente magister fuerit constitutus. Post Jacobi episcopi mortem, Nisibi a Persis capta, Edessam profectus est: ubi primum in monte inter monachos consedit, deinde, ut plurimos ad se confiuentes homines vitaret, vitam duxit eremiticam. Edessenæ Ecclesiæ diaconus ordinatus, et ob humilitatem sacerdotium recusans, omnium virtutum splendore enituit, et pietatem et religionem vera sapientiæ professione sibi comparare sategit. Spem omnem in solo Deo defixam habens, quævis humana ac transitoria contemnens, divina ac sempiterna assidue concupiscebat.

Cæsaream Cappadociæ, divino ductus spiritu, cum petiisset, ipsum ibi os Ecclesiæ Basilium vidit, et uterque mutua consuetudine opportunum in modum usus est. Ad innumeros errores refellendos, qui tunc temporis grassantes, Ecclesiam Dei divexabant, atque ad mysteria Domini nostri Jesu Christi sedulo illustranda, plurimas edidit lucubrationes, Syro sermone compositas, et fere omnes in linguam Græcam versas; atque, teste sancto Hieronymo, ipse ad tantam venit claritudinem, ut, post lectionem Scripturarum, publice in quibusdam Ecclesiis ejus scripta recitarentur.

Universa illius opera, tam splendido doctrinæ lumine referta, effecerunt, ut idem Sanctus, adhuc vivens, tamquam Ecclesiæ Doctor, magno honore habitus fuerit. Metrica quoque cantica composuit in laudem beatissimæ Virginis Mariæ ac Sanctorum: quam ob causam a Syris Spiritus Sancti cithara merito fuit appellatus. In mirifica ac pia devotione erga eamdem Virginem Immaculatam primum excelluit. Meritis plenus, Edessæ, in Mesopotamia, decimo quarto Kalendas Julii, decessit sub Valente principe: eumque, instantibus pluribus sanctæ Romanæ Ecclesiæ Cardinalibus, Patriarchis, Archiepiscopis, Episcopis, Abbatibus et religiosis familiis, Benedictus Papa decimus quintus, ex Sacrorum Rituum Congregationis consulto universalis Ecclesiæ Doctorem declaravit.
Ephraem was of Syrian descent and son of a citizen of Nisibis. While yet a young man be betook himself to the holy bishop James, by whom he was baptized, and he soon made such progress in holiness and learning as to be appointed master in the school of Nisibis in Mesopotamia. After the death of the bishop James Nisibis was captured by the Persians, and Ephraem went to Edessa, where he settled first among the monks in the mountains. Later, to avoid the company of those who flocked to him, he adopted the eremitical life. He was made deacon of the church of Edessa, but refused the priesthood out of humility. He was rich in all virtues and strove to acquire piety and religion by the following of true wisdom. He placed all his hope in God, despised all human and transitory things, and was ever filled with the earnest desire of those which are divine and eternal.

He was led by the Spirit of God to Caesarea in Cappadocia, where he saw Basil, the mouthpiece of the Church, and they obtained benefit from their mutual intercourse. In order to refute the many errors which troubled the Church at that time, and to expound the mysteries of Jesus Christ, he wrote many books in the Syrian tongue, almost all of which have been translated into Greek. St Jerome bears witness that he attained such fame that his writings were read publicly in the churches after the reading from the Holy Scriptures.

On account of his works, so full of the light of heavenly doctrine, he was greatly honoured even during his lifetime as a Doctor of the Church. He composed a poem in praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints for which he was called by the Syrians the Harp of the Holy Ghost. He was noted for his great and tender devotion towards the immaculate Virgin. He died, rich in merits, at Edessa in Mesopotamia, on the fourteenth of the Kalends of July, in the reign of Valens. Pope Benedict XV, at the instance of many Cardinals of the holy Roman Church, patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, abbots and religious communities, declared him by a decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites to be a Doctor of the Universal Church.

Thy glory, O Ephraem, shines henceforward throughout the whole world. Let us join our feeble praise to that of East and West, which, in admiration of thy virtue, rises to thee this day. But we know that this praise will not be pleasing to thee unless we follow thy teaching and example in our lives. Help us to walk in those paths which thy writings and deeds have marked out so clearly for us, and above all strengthen our faith. Thou hast said that there is no richer man than he who has the faith. At a time when everything seems to conspire to diminish or obscure the truth, when ignorance joins with false doctrine to lessen its brightness and deter souls, obtain for us a holy eagerness to receive the doctrine of the Church, the expression of eternal truth; help us to be earnest in our search and zealous to keep and uphold it in all its purity. Inspire in us that hatred of error with which thy burning words inflamed the hearts of the faithful of Edessa, and which at thy death thou didst leave to them as thy last counsel and most precious gift.

O holy anchorite, help us to acquire all the Christian virtues, encourage within our souls the interior life, the sources of which, as thou hast taught us, are to be found where Christ himself has placed them—'that is, in the Sacraments, in the observance of the precepts of the Gospel and in the various exercises of piety which the liturgy affords and which the authority of the Church recommends to us.’[21] We pray that by these means the virtue of charity, that is above all others, that is characterized by all the dispositions especially dear to Almighty God and is unable to exist without the presence of many other virtues, may ever be increasing in our souls. For, according to one of thine own graceful comparisons, even as the royal diadem lacks lustre if one of the gems is missing, so love of God and our neighbour cannot be perfect unless it be united in the other virtues.[22]

In order that we may dwell in charity and may safeguard our weakness from error and vice, we will live in fear of the last judgement, that terrible day thou hast described so eloquently, when the earth, sea and sky will be burnt up by a spark from the divine fire, when all men will be called upon to undergo a searching examination into each thought, word and deed. By thine assistance may we be faithful to our baptismal promises, so that on the last day we may be found worthy to take our place among the elect.

O holy doctor, who now before the divine altar and the Ruler of life art, with the angels, adoring the Blessed Trinity, be mindful of us and obtain for us the pardon of our sins that we may rejoice in the eternal happiness of the heavenly kingdom.[23]


[1] S Greg. Nyss., Vita S Ephraem; Lamy, S Ephraem Syri Hymni et Sermones, I Proleg.
[2] Bened. XV Litt. encyl. Principi Apostolorum.
[3] S Hier. De script. eccl., c. cxv.
[4] Assemani, Bibl. Orient. i 26; Lamy, op. cit., iv, p. xxvii; Bouvy, “Les Sources historiques de la vie de saint Ephrem,” Revue augustinienne, Janvier, 1903.
[5] Serm. de patientia et consummatione hujus sæculi.
[6] S Greg, Nyss., opcit.
[7] St Matt. viii 20.
[8] Discours sur la Passion, De Lamy, “ Étude de Patrologie orientale, saint Ephrem,” V Université catholique, 1890.
[9] De Lamy, Discours sur la Passionloc. cit.
[10] De Lamy, Discours sur la Passionloc. cit.
[11] Rubens Duval, Littérature syriaque, p. 21.
[12] Christmas, vol. i, p. 220; vol. ii, Passim.
[13] Pentecost, vol. iii, p. 302.
[14] Ibid., vol. vi, p. 193.
[15] Bened. XV, loc. cit.
[16] Carm. Nisib., n. 27.
[17] Ps. cxxxviii 21.
[18] St Matt. vii 15.
[19] Ibid. viii 29.
[20] Rubens Duval, Journal Asiatique, 1901.
[21] Bened. XV, loc. cit.
[22] Serm. de vita et exercit. monast.
[23] S Greg. Nyss., loc, cit.

 

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

WE have already met with these noble athletes of to-day's feast; for on January 20, when celebrating St Sebastian, the brave defender of holy Church, Mark and Marcellian appeared at his side as the noblest conquest won by the sainted head of the praetorian guards. There are other heroes, likewise gained over by his zealous intrepidity, whose names gild the pages of the Martyrology; but these two, whose festival we are keeping, were the immediate occasion of Sebastian's leading to God so goodly a troop of valiant Christians. Their conversion prepared Sebastian’s martyrdom, by reason of his apostolate in their regard; and their glory eternally redounds to him around whom in heaven they form a resplendent phalanx.

Captivity, torments, and even the sentence of death pronounced upon them, had failed to shake the courage of these two brethren. A trial yet more terrible awaited them—namely, the sight forced upon them of the heartbroken grief caused to all they loved on earth by their sentence of condemnation; for their family, not being Christian, knew no bounds to sorrow. Their father and mother bent down by years, the wife of each, surrounded by a group of weeping children, all uttering bitterest reproaches against these soldiers of Christ for the destitution into which their coming death would plunge the survivors: such was the dire attack! Sebastian, profiting by the liberty his position afforded to approach the Christians in prison, was ever their comfort and encourager. He failed not to be present at this scene, for his noble heart fully realized how dangerously severe such a trial must be for souls as yet unscathed by any personal peril. The danger he knew might be imminent at that moment: wherefore, scorning his own safety, he there and then revealed himself a Christian, in order to hold out a strengthening hand to the two brethren. Moreover, God lent such wondrous efficacy to his words, that they converted even the pagans there assembled. Thus Mark and Marcellian had the joy of beholding those whose piteous complaints had a moment before so painfully thrilled their souls, now applauding their constancy and demanding baptism. Their unbounded happiness was evident all through their final conflict, which opened heaven to them, and which is related as follows in this short Lesson:

Marcus et Marcellianus fratres Romani, propter christianam fidem a Fabiano duce comprehensi, ad stipitem alligati sunt, pedibus clavis confixis. Ad quos cum ita loqueretur judex: Resipiscite, miseri, et vos ipsos ab his cruciatibus eripite; responderunt: Nunquam tam jucunde epulati sumus, quam hæc libenter Jesu Christi causa perferimus, in cujus amore nunc fixi esse cœpimus; utinam tamdiu nos hæc pati sinat, quamdiu hoc corruptibili corpore vestiti erimus. Qui diem noctemque in tormentis divinas laudes canentes, denique telis transfìxi, ad martyrii gloriam pervenerunt. Quorum corpora via Ardeatina sepulta sunt.
Mark and 'Marcellian were two brothers, Romans, who were arrested by the prefect Fabian for believing in Christ, and were fastened to a beam, to which their feet were nailed. The judge said to them: 'Wretched creatures, do think for a moment, and free yourselves from such suffering.’ But they answered him: 'Never did we enjoy any banquet so much as what we are now undergoing for Jesus Christ’s sake, in whose love we now begin to be firmly fixed: would that he might let us suffer this as long as we are clad in this corruptible body!' For a day and a night they suffered, singing the praises of God continually, and in the end were thrust through with darts, and so attained the glory of martyrdom. Their bodies are buried in the Via Ardeatina.

The Holy Ghost filled you with strength, O glorious martyrs; and the love which he poured into your hearts changed into exquisite delights torments that terrify our cowardice. Yet after all, of how much less account are those tortures that touched but your perishable body, compared with that intense anguish of soul over which you so nobly triumphed? The dire grief of those whom you held dearer far than life, and whom, to all appearance, you needs must leave in hopeless woe, was verily the culminating pitch of your martyrdom. Those alone can fail to realize this, who deserve the reproach cast by St Paul upon the pagans of his day, that they are without affection:[1] when the world once more presents such a hateful spectacle as this, then will be the sign of the last day's near approach, so says the same apostle.[2] Nevertheless, human love must cede to that of God: he that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he who loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.[3] You understood all this, dear martyrs; your relatives, who would separate you from our Lord, became enemies in your eyes.[4] At that very instant, Jesus, who can never let himself be outdone in generosity, restored these dear ones to you, by taking them, through a miracle of grace, together with you and because of your example, unto himself. Thus do you complete for us the instructions already given by Julitta and her boy, by Vitus and his glorious companions. Obtain for us, ye victors in such keen trials, an ever growing courage and love proportionate to our increase in the light and in the knowledge of our duty to God.


[1] Rom. i 31.
[2] 2 Tim. iii 1, 3.
[3] St Matt. x 37.
[4] Ibid. x 36.

 

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

THIS day witnesses the close of the pilgrimage of one who was miraculously supplied with the divine Viaticum. Juliana presents herself at heaven's gate, showing upon her heart the impress of the sacred Host. The lily emblazoned on the city escutcheon of Florence glistens with fresh radiance to-day, for it was she who gave birth to our saint, as well as to so many others, some of whom have already beamed across our path, and some are about to follow; all of them brilliant in sublime virtues practised within the ancient walls of this 'city of flowers,' under the delighted glance and the urging influence of the Spirit of love. But what shall we say of the glory of the mountains which nobly crown this fair city, a diadem lovely in men's eyes, and still more so to angels’ gaze? What of Vallombrosa, and, farther in the blue distance, of Camaldoli, of Alberno? all sacred fortresses, at whose feet hell trembling howls, all sacred reservoirs of choicest grace, guarded by seraphim, whence flow in gushing streams, more abundant and more pure than Arno’s tide, living waters of salvation on all the smiling land around!

In 1233, just thirty-seven years previous to Juliana's birth, Florence seemed destined to be, under the holy influence of such a neighbourhood, a very paradise of sanctity; so common did the higher Christian life become, of such everyday occurrence were supernatural prodigies. The Mother of divine grace was then multiplying her gifts. On a certain festival of the Assumption seven of the citizens, the most distinguished for nobility of blood, fortune and public offices of trust, were suddenly inflamed by a heavenly desire to consecrate themselves unreservedly to the service of our Lady. Presently, as these men passed along bidding adieu to the world, babes at the breast cried out all over the city: ‘Behold the Servants of the Virgin Mary!’ Among the innocents whose tongues were thus unloosed to announce the divine mysteries was the new-born son of the illustrious family of Benizi. He was named Philip, and had first seen the light on the very feast of the Assumption, whereon Mary had just founded, for her glory and that of her divine Son, the Order of the Servites.

We shall have to return to this child, who was to be the chief propagator of the new Order; for holy Church celebrates his birthday into heaven on the morrow of the octave of the Assumption. He was destined to be Juliana’s spiritual father. In the meantime the seven invited by Mary to the festival of penitence, who all, persevering faithful unto death, are inscribed on the catalogue of the saints, had retired three leagues from Florence to the desert of Monte Senario. There our Lady, during seven years, formed them to the great work of which they were the predestined though unwitting instruments. According to his wont, the Holy Ghost, during all this preparatory season, though of long duration, kept from them every idea save that of their own sanctification, employing them in the mortification of the senses and in a spirit of exclusive contemplation of the sufferings of our Lord and those of his blessed Mother. Two amongst them daily came down to the city to beg bread for themselves and their companions. One of these illustrious mendicants was Alexius Falconieri, the most eager for humiliations amongst all the seven. His brother, who, still continuing in the world, held one of the highest positions amongst the citizens, was in every way worthy of this blessed man, and paid homage to his heroic self-abasement. He likewise took an honourable share in the united gift bestowed, with the concurrence of all classes of these religious citizens, upon the solitaries of Monte Senario, whereby a magnilicent church was added to the poor retreat they had been induced to accept, for greater convenience, at the gates of Florence.

To honour the mystery wherein their sovereign Lady declared herself to be the humble servant of the Lord, this church and monastery of the Servites of Mary received the title of the ‘Annunziata.’ Among the marvels which wealth and art in succeeding ages have lavished upon its interior, the principal treasure, which puts all the rest in the shade, is a primitive fresco of the angelical salutation, dating from the lifetime of the founders, the painter whereof, more devout to Mary than skilful with his pencil, deserved to be aided by the hands of angels. Signal favours obtained without interruption through this sacred picture still attract flocks of devout visitors. If the city of the Medici and of the Tuscan Grand Dukes, though swallowed up by the universal brigandage of the house of Savoy, has preserved better than many others the lively piety of better days, she owes it to this ancient Madonna, as well as to the numerous saints who seem gathered within her walls to serve as a cortège of honour for our Lady.

These details seem necessary to throw light on the abridged account given in the liturgy regarding our saint. Juliana, bom of a sterile mother and of a father advanced in years, was the reward of the zeal displayed for the 'Annunziata' by her father, Carissimo Falconieri. Beside this picture of the Madonna was she to spend her life and to yield up her last breath. Close by it her sacred relics now repose. Educated by her uncle, St Alexius, in the love of Mary and of humility, she devoted herself from her very youth to the Order founded by our Lady, ambitious for no title but that of Oblate, which would entail upon her the duty of serving, in the lowest rank, the Servant of God’s Mother. For this reason she was later on acknowledged to be the foundress of the Third Order of the Servites, and was superioress of the first community of these female tertiaries, surnamed 'Mantellatæ.' But her influence extended further still, so that the whole Order, both the men and the women alike, hail her as their mother; for it was indeed she who put the finishing stroke to the work of its foundation and gave it the stability it has possessed for centuries.

The Order, which had become marvellously extended during forty years of miraculous existence, was just then, under the government of St Philip Benizi, passing through a dangerous crisis, the more to be feared because the storm had taken rise in Rome itself. There was question of everywhere carrying into effect the canons of the councils of Lateran and Lyons, prohibiting the introduction of new Orders into the Church. Now the institute of the Servites being posterior to the first of these councils, Innocent V was resolved on its suppression. The superiors had already been forbidden to receive any novice to profession or to clothing; and whilst awaiting the definitive sentence, the goods of the Order were considered, beforehand, as already having devolved on the Holy See. Philip Benizi was about to die, and Juliana was but fifteen years of age. Nevertheless, enlightened from on high, the saint did not hesitate: he confided the Order into Juliana's hands, and so slept in the peace of our Lord. The event justified his hopes: after various catastrophes, which it were long to relate, Benedict XI, in 1304, gave to the Servites the definitive sanction of the Church. So true is it that in the counsels of divine Providence rank, age and sex count for naught! The simplicity of a soul that has wounded the Heart of the Spouse is stronger in her humble submission than highest authority; and her secret prayer prevails over powers established by God himself.

Juliana, ex nobili Falconeria familia, clarissimo patre, qui templum Deiparæ ab angelo salutatæ ære suo magnifìce a fundamentis Fiorentiæ, ut nunc visitur, erexit; matre Reguardata, ambobus jam senescentibus, ac ad id tempus sterilibus, nata est anno millesimo ducentesimo septuagesimo. Ab incunabulis non exiguum futuræ sanctitatis specimen dedit; vagientibus quippe labris suavissima Jesu et Mariæ nomina ultro proferre audita est. Pueritia postmodum ingressa, totam se christianis virtutibus mancipavit, in quibus adeo excelluit, ut beatus Alexius patruus, cujus institutis ac exemplis extruebatur, matri dicere non dubitaverit ipsam non feminam peperisse, sed angelum; nam ita modesto vultu, animoque ab omni vel brevissima erroris macula pula fuit, ut oculos nunquam in toto vitæ cursu ad hominis faciem intuendam erexerit, auditoque peccati vocabulo contremuerit, imo, sceleris narratione perculsa, illico prope exanimis corruerit. Expleto nondum decimo quinto ætatis suæ anno, re familiari, licet opulenta, terrenisque posthabitis nuptiis, Deo virginitatem in manibus divi Philippi Benitii solemniter vovit, ab eoque omnium prima religiosum Mantellatarum habitum, ut dicunt, sumpsit.

Julianæ exemplum secutæ sunt plurimæ ex nobilioribus familiis feminæ, ac mater ipsa filiæ sese religiose instituendam dedit; ita ut, aucto paulatim numero, Ordinem Mantellatarum instituerit, ac illi pie vivendi leges summa prudentia ac sanctitate tradiderit. Ejus virtutes cum optime perspectas divus Benitius haberet; morti proximus, nulli melius quam Julianæ, non feminas tantum, sed et totum Servorum Ordinem, cujus propagator et moderator exstiterat, commendatum voluit. Verum ipsa demisse semper de se cogitabat: et cum cæterarum esset magistra in re quaque domestica, licet vili, sororibus famulabatur. Assiduitate orandi integras insumebat dies, in extasim sæpissime rapta; et si reliquum, in sedandis civium dissidiis, criminosis a via iniquitatis retrahendis, ac inserviendis impendebat ægrotis, quorum quandoque saniem ex ulceribus manantem, admoto ore lambens, eos sanitati restituebat. Corpus suum flagris, nodosis funiculis, ferreis cingulis, vigiliis, humi nudæ cubando, terere solita fuit. Parcissimo cibo, et hoc vili, quatuor hebdomadæ diebus, et reliquis duobus solo angelorum pane contenta, excepto die Sabbati, quo pane solo et aqua nutriebatur.

Dura hujusmodi vivendi ratione in stomachi morbum incidit, quo ingravescente, cum septuagesimum ætatis annum ageret, ad extremum vitæ spatium redacta est. Diuturnæ valetudinis incommoda hilari vultu, constantique animo pertulit: de uno tantum conqueri audita est, quod cum cibum capere ac retinere nullo modo posset, ab Eucharistica mensa ob Sacramenti reverentiam arceretur. Verum, his in angustiis constituta, sacerdotem rogavit, ut allatum divinum panem, quem ore sumere nequibat, pectori saltem exterius admoveret. Precibus illius morem gessit sacerdos, et mirum! eodem temporis momento divinus panis disparuit, et Juliana sereno ac ridenti vultu exspiravit. Res supra fìdem tamdiu fuit, donec virgineum de more curaretur corpus; inventa enim est circa sinistrum pectoris latus carni veluti sigillo impressa forma hostiæ, quæChristi crucifixi effigiem repræsentabat. Hujus prodigii fama, cæterorumque miraculorum, non Florentiæ tantum, sed totius christiani orbis venerationem illi conciliavit, ac per quatuor prope integra sæcula adeo aucta est, ut tandem Benedictus Papa Decimustertius in ejus celebritate Officium proprium recitari ab universo Ordine beatæ MariæVirginis Servorum jusserit. Clemens vero duodecimus, munificentissimus ejusdem Ordinis protector, novis in dies miraculis coruscantem sanctarum virginum catalogo adscripsit.
Juliana, of the noble family of Falconieri, was daughter of that illustrious nobleman who founded and built the church of our Lady of the Annunciation, still to be seen in Florence. When she was born, in the year 1270, both he and Reguardata his wife were already advanced in years, and up to this time childless. From her very cradle she gave tokens of the holiness of life to which she afterwards attained. And from the lisping of her baby lips was caught the sweet sound of the names of Jesus and Mary. As she entered on her girlhood, she delivered herself up entirely to the pursuit of Christian virtues, and so excellently shone therein, that her uncle, the blessed Alexius, scrupled not to tell her mother that she had given birth to an angel rather than to a woman. So modest, indeed, was her countenance, and so pure her soul from the slightest speck of indiscretion, that she never in her whole life raised her eyes to a man's face, and the very mention of sin made her shiver; and when the story of a grievous crime was told her, she dropped down fainting and almost lifeless. Before she had completed her fifteenth year, she renounced her inheritance, although a rich one, and all prospect of earthly marriage, solemnly making to God a vow of virginity in the hands of St Philip Benizi, from whom she was the first to receive the religious habit of the so-called Mantellatæ.

Juliana’s example was followed by many young women of noble families, and even her own mother put herself under her daughter’s instructions. Thus in a little while their number increased, and she became foundress of the Order of the Mantellatæ, to whom she gave a rule of life full of wisdom and holiness. Saint Philip Benizi, having thorough knowledge of her virtues, being at the point of death, thought that to none better than to her could he leave the care not only of the women but of the whole Order of Servites, of which he was the propagator and head: yet of herself she ever had a lowly estimation, even when she was the mistress of others, ministering to her sisters in the meanest offices of the household work. She passed whole days in incessant prayer, and was often rapt in spirit; and the remainder of her time she toiled to make peace among the citizens, who were at variance amongst themselves; to recall sinners from evil courses; and to nurse the sick, to cure whom she would sometimes use even her tongue to remove the matter that ran from their sores, and so healed them. It was her custom to afflict her body with whips, knotted cords, iron girdles, watching, and sleeping upon the bare ground. Upon four days of the week she ate very sparingly, and then only of the coarsest food; on the other two she contented herself with the Bread of angels alone; and on Saturday she took only bread and water.

This hardship of life caused her to fall ill of a stomach complaint, which increasing brought her to the point of death, when she was seventy years of age. She bore the daily sufferings of this long illness with a smiling face and a brave heart; the only thing of which she was heard to complain being, that her stomach was so weak, that unable to retain food, she was withheld, by reverence for the holy Sacrament, from the Eucharistic table. Finding herself in these straits she begged the priest to bring her the divine Bread, and, as she dared not take it into her mouth, to put it as near as possible to her heart exteriorly. The priest did as she wished, and to the amazement of all present, the divine Bread at once disappeared from sight, and at the same instant a smile of joyous peace crossed the face of Juliana, and she gave up the ghost. This matter seemed beyond all belief, until the virginal body was being laid out in the accustomed manner; for then there was found, upon the left side of the bosom, a mark like the stamp of a seal, reproducing the form of the sacred Host, bearing a figure of Christ crucified. The report of this and of other wonders procured for Juliana the reverence not only of Florence, but of all parts of the Christian world, which reverence so increased through the course of four hundred years, that Pope Benedict XIII commanded a proper Office in her honour to be celebrated by the whole Order of Servites of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Clement XII, the munificent protector of the same Order, finding new signs and wonders shedding lustre upon her glory every day, inscribed the name of Juliana upon the catalogue of holy virgins.

To serve Mary was the only nobility that had any attraction in thine eyes, O Juliana! To share her dolours was the only recompense which thy generous soul, in its lowliness, could desire. Thy desires were granted: but from her lofty throne the Queen of angels and of men, who confessed that she was the handmaid of the Lord and that God had regard to her humility,[1] was also pleased to exalt thee, like herself, above all the mighty ones. Counteracting that hidden silence wherein thou wouldst fain have had the human brilliancy of thy pedigree forgotten and lost for ever, she hath made thy holy glory eclipse the fair honour of thy sires in Florence; so that if the name of Falconieri has now a world-wide fame, it is on thy account, O humble tertiary, O lowly servant of the Servites of our Lady! Further still: in that fair home of true nobility, in yonder city of God, where ranks are distinguished by the varying degree of radiance shed by the Lamb on the brow of each one of the elect, thou dost shine resplendent with an aureole, which is nothing less than a participation of Mary’s glory. Just as she acted in regard of holy Church after the Ascension of our Lord, so didst thou in respect of the Servite Order; for whilst leaving to others external action and the authority to rule souls, thou wast none the less, in thy lowliness, the real mistress and mother of the new family chosen by God. More than once, in other centuries likewise, has the Mother of God been pleased thus to glorify her faithful imitators, by making them become, beyond all calculation of their own, faithful copies of herself. Just as in the family confided to Peter by her divine Son our Lady was the most submissive of all to the rule of Christ’s Vicar and that of the other apostles, whereas all knew right well that she was their Queen and the very fountain-head of the graces of consolidation and growth that were inundating the Church; so, O Juliana, the weakness of thy sex and age in no way restrained a strong religious Order from proclaiming thee its light and its glory. This was because the Most High, ever liberal in his gifts, was pleased to grant to thy youthfulness results which he refused to the greater maturity, to the genius, yea, to the sanctity of thy father, St Philip Benizi!

Continue, then, to shield thy devout family of Servites of Mary: stretch forth thy protecting mantle over every religious Order severely tried in these days. May Florence, through thine aid, ever hold in most precious remembrance the favours lavished on her by our Lady and the saints, because of her faith, in the good days of old. May holy Church ever have more and more cause to sing thy power as a bride over the heart of the divine Spouse. In return for the signal grace he bestowed on thee as the crown of thy life and the consummation of his love in thee, be propitious to us in our last struggle: obtain for us that we may not die unhelped by the reception of the holy Viaticum. The whole of this portion of the cycle is illumined with the rays of the adorable Host, proposed to our profound worship in so special a manner, at this season, by another Juliana. Oh! may that sweet Host be the one love of our life's career! May it be our strong bulwark in life's final combat! May our death be nothing else than a passing from the divine banquet of earth’s land of shadows up to the delights of eternal union!


[1] St Luke i 48, 52.