logo with text

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

THE mere commemoration made to-day of these two glorious brethren, whose names were formerly so celebrated throughout the West, must not lessen their merit in our eyes. The Holy Spirit, whose function it is to maintain within the bride of Jesus that divine mark of holiness whereby she is to be, up to the day of doom, for ever recognizable both to angels and to men, ceases not in every generation to raise up new saints, who more especially attract the devout homage of that particular period to which their virtues have served as an example and of which they are the distinctive glory. In thus honouring her children whose brilliant virtues add fresh jewels to her vesture, holy Church is moved by a sentiment of gratitude to the Paraclete for present benefits; yet these later manifestations can never make her forgetful of those wrought within her by the same divine Spirit in her earlier days. Gervase and Protase are indeed no longer honoured by the solemn feast preceded by a vigil, mentioned in the sacramentary of Gelasius; but they still occupy their important place in the Roman litanies, as representatives of the great martyr host. To these two, in preference to a vast array of martyrs whose festivals are now of a rite superior to theirs, does holy Church turn in the most solemn of all her supplications; whether it be in holy processions to implore the averting of scourges and the obtaining of blessings for this present life; or whether the sacred assembly of the whole Christian people, prostrate together with the Pontiff, unite in imploring the grace of abundant consecration to flow upon altars and temples, or upon priests, virgins, or kings.

We learn from the historians of sacred rites, that the Introit of the Mass of our two holy martyrs, The Lord will give peace unto his people, is a monument of the confidence of St Gregory the Great in their powerful succour. Filled with gratitude for results already obtained, he committed to their care, in the selection of this antiphon, the complete pacification of Italy, then a prey to Lombard invasion and to the petty vengeance of the Byzantine court.

Two centuries previously St Ambrose had had a first experience of the special power of pacification which it seemed our Lord Christ had attached to the very bones of these his glorious witnesses in return for their having given their life for him. The empress Justina and the Arian Auxentius now for a second time directed against the bishop of Milan a united assault of the powers of earth and of hell; and Ambrose, thus again ordered to abandon his Church, replied: ‘It were unseemly in a priest to deliver up the temple.’[1] Upon the soldiers sent to lend main force to the invaders of the sacred precincts he threatened sentence of excommunication, if they passed one step farther; and they, knowing that they had engaged themselves to God by their baptism before having done so to their prince, thereupon refused to commit the sacrilege. To the court, terrified at the universal indignation that had ensued, and now praying him to quell the popular excitement aroused by these odious measures, he replied: ‘It is in my power not to excite it; but to appease it belongs only to God.’ When such troops as could be assembled, composed exclusively of Arians, were at length surrounding the basilica wherein was Ambrose, his faithful people were there to be seen gathered around him, in the name of the undivided and ever tranquil Trinity, sustaining, by the sole force of divine psalmody and sacred hymns, a novel kind of siege. But the last act of this two years' war levied against a disarmed man, the event which completed the overthrow of heresy, was the discovery of the relics of Gervase and Protase, precious treasures unconsciously possessed by Milan, and now revealed to their bishop by a heavenly inspiration.

Let us hearken to the bishop himself recounting these facts to his sister Marcellina in all the sweet simplicity of his great soul. Long consecrated by the Supreme Pontiff himself to the Spouse of virgins, Marcellina was one of those all-powerful in humility, who are almost invariably placed by our Lord side by side with the great historic names of holy Church, to be their stay and support before God; ignored co-operatrices in deeds the most brilliant, whose intervention by prayer and suffering must, for the most part, remain concealed until the day when eternal realities shall be revealed. Ambrose had already kept his sister informed of the details of the first campaign directed against him: ‘In almost every letter,’ he says, ‘thou dost anxiously inquire about what affecteth the Church; well then, here it is. The day after that on which thou didst send me the account of thy dreams, the weight of heavy disquietude fell upon us.’[2] The following letter, on the contrary, breathes already of triumph and liberty regained:

The brother to the lady, his sister, dearer to him than are his eyes and his life. It is my wont to leave thy holiness ignorant of nothing that passeth here in thine absence: know also then, that we have found martyrs. For of a truth, when I was engaged about the dedicating of the basilica which thou knowest, many began to call upon me with one voice, saying: Dedicate it after the manner of the Roman basilica. I replied: I will do so, if I find relics of martyrs. Thereupon there came upon me, as it were, the glowing heat of a presage. What shall I say? The Lord hath bestowed his grace. Despite the fears of the very clerics themselves, I ordered the earth to be dug up about the spot facing the balustrade of SS Felix and Nabor. I found the wished-for signs. Men even came forward bringing possessed persons on whom we might impose hands; and it so fell out, that at the very first sight of the holy martyrs, while we as yet had not broken silence, a[3] woman from among them was instantly seized and thrown to the ground before the holy tomb. We found therein two men of wondrous stature, as in the times of the ancients; all the bones entire, and a quantity of blood. There was a vast concourse of people during these two days. Wherefore these details? Towards evening we transported the holy bodies (in their entirety and laid out in a fitting manner) to the basilica of Fausta; there vigil was kept all night, and imposition of hands; on the morrow, the translation to the basilica which they call the Ambrosian. During the transit, a blind man was cured.[4]

Ambrose then goes on to relate to Marcellina the discourse pronounced by him on this occasion. We can cite only one passage:

O Lord Jesus, I give thee thanks for having raised up in our midst the spirit of thy holy martyrs, at a time in which thy Church is in need of greatest succour. Be it known unto all what kind of defenders I desire; such as can defend and yet attack not. Holy people, lo! I have gained such for you, they are useful to all, hurtful to none! Such are the guardians I desire, such my soldiers. On their account I have no envy to fear; yea, I wish their succour to be profitable to those even who are jealous of me. So then let them come, let them behold my guards: I deny not my being surrounded by arms such as these! Even as in the case of the servant of Eliseus, when the Syrian army was besieging the prophet, God hath opened our eyes. Behold us, brethren, freed from no light shame: to have had defenders, and not to have known it! . . . Behold how from an ignoble sepulchre, noble remains have been taken, trophies at last brought to light. Gaze upon this tomb still wet with blood, glorious stains, marks of victory! See these relics inviolable in their hiding-place, laid just in the very same order wherein they were placed the first day! Look at this head separated from the shoulders! Our old men now begin to remember having formerly heard these martyrs named, and to have read the inscription on their tomb. Our city had lost her own martyrs, she who had borne away those of foreign cities! Although this is God's gift, still I cannot refuse to see therein a great grace, whereby our Lord Jesus has vouchsafed to render the time of my episcopate illustrious. Not deserving to be myself a martyr, I have procured these martyrs for you. Let them be brought in then; bring hither these victorious victims, let them take their place where Christ is the Victim; but on the altar be he who suffered for all, and under the altar be they whom his Passion redeemed. I had destined this spot for myself; since fitting it is that the Pontiff should repose where he hath been wont to present the Oblation; but I cede my right to sacred victims: this place was due unto martyrs.[5]

In fact, Ambrose did come, ten years later, to take his own place under the altar of the Ambrosian basilica; he occupied the Epistle side, leaving that of the Gospel to the two martyrs. In the ninth century one of his successors, Angilbert, placed the three venerable bodies together, in one same sarcophagus of porphyry, which was placed lengthways of the altar, above the two primitive tombs. There, after the lapse of a thousand years, on August 8, 1871, owing to necessary repairs being made in the basilica, they once more reappeared; not this time amidst blood, as the fourth century had disclosed our martyrs, but under a sheet of water, deep and limpid; a touching image of that water of Wisdom,[6] which flowed so copiously from the lips of Ambrose himself, now the principal occupant of this holy tomb. There, not far from the tomb of St Marcellina, itself also an altar, the pilgrim of these days, with soul brimful of bygone memories, may still venerate these precious relics; for they are united in one crystal shrine where, placed under the immediate protection of the Roman Pontiff Pius IX,[7] they await the glorious day of resurrection.

The brief legend of these two martyrs runs as follows:

Gervasius et Protasius, Vitalis et Valeriæ filii, quorum pater Ravennæ, mater Mediolani, pro Christi Domini fide martyrium subierunt, distributopauperibus patrimonio, domesticos servos libertate donarunt. Quo facto Gentilium sacerdotes immane in illos conceptum odium habebant. Quare, cum Astasius comes in bellum proficisci vellet, hanc occasionem perdendi pios fratres se nactos esse putaverunt. Itaque Astasio persuadent se a diis admonitos esse, nullo modo eum in bello victorem futurum, nisi Gervasio et Protasio coactis Christum negare, eosdem ad sacra diis facienda compelleret. Quod cum illi detestarentur, Astasius imperavit Gervasium tamdiu cædi dum inter verbera exspiraret: Protasium fustibus contusum securi percuti jubet. Quorum corpora Philippus Christi servus clam sustulit, et in suis ædibus sepelivit: quæ postea sanctus Ambrosius, Dei monitu inventa, in loco sacro et insigni collocanda curavit. Passi sunt Mediolani decimo tertio Kalendas Julii.
Gervase and Protase were the sons of Vitalis and Valeria, who both suffered martyrdom for the Lord Christ’s sake, the father at Ravenna, and the mother at Milan. After the victory of their parents, Gervase and Protase gave all their inheritance to the poor and set free their slaves. This act stirred up against them the savage hatred of the heathen priests, who, when the Count Astasius was setting forth to war, believed they had a good occasion for the destruction of the two holy brethren. They persuaded Astasius that their gods had revealed to them that he had no chance of conquering in the war, unless he had first made Gervase and Protase to deny Christ, and to offer sacrifice to the gods. Being commanded so to do, they refused with horror, and Astasius then ordered Gervase to be beaten with rods until he died under the stripes, and Protase to be beaten with clubs, and his head to be struck off. A servant of Christ named Philip took away their dead bodies by stealth and buried them in his own house; and in after times, St Ambrose, being warned of God, found them, and bestowed them in a hallowed and honourable place. They suffered at Milan, on the thirteenth of the Kalends of July.

Though short is the account of your combat, O holy martyrs, because few are the details handed down to us concerning you, still may we cry out with St Ambrose when he first presented you to the populace: ‘That eloquence is best which springs from blood; for blood is a voice of thunder, re-echoing from earth to heaven.’[8] Oh! make us to understand its potent accents! Ever must the veins of a Christian be ready to pour forth testimony to God, our Redeemer! Say, is there no blood left in our impoverished veins? Oh! cure our generation of such a hopeless state of lingering decline; what physicians may not, Jesus Christ can always do!

Up then, glorious brethren; teach us the royal road of devotedness and suffering! Surely not in vain have our feeble eyes been granted to contemplate you, in these our days, even as did Ambrose; if God, after the lapse of so many ages, has once more revealed the sight of you, he must therein have intentions not unlike those he had in bygone times! Therefore, dear saints, may he vouchsafe to raise up, through your intercession, mankind and our present society from the degradation of a fatal servility; to banish error, to save the Church, who cannot indeed perish, but whom he loves to deliver by means of her saints. Doth it not behove you, generous martyrs, to recognize by signal favours the protection lavished by the successor of Peter on your relics, despite his own captivity? May Milan be worthy of you and of her Ambrose! Deign lovingly to visit the various lands both near and afar, formerly enriched with the blood found near your tomb. France was specially devout to you, placing no fewer than five of her cathedrals under your glorious invocation; may she not look for particular help at your hands? Oh! rouse once more her piety of bygone days; free her from false sects, from traitors! Let the day soon come when she may step forth once again the soldier of God!


[1] Amb. Epist. xx.
[2] Epist. xx.
[3] Urna in the Latin text is taken for una by the best interpreters.
[4] Epist. xxii.
[5] Epist. xxii.
[6] Prov. xviii 4; xx 5; Ecclus. xv 3; etc.
[7] Constitutio Pii IX: Qui attingit a fine usque ad finem fortiter.
[8] Epist. xxii.

 

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

PAPAL succession is one of the principal facts wherein is demonstrated the working of the Holy Ghost, from the very first day of his descent upon our earth. The legitimacy of the Popes, as successors of Peter, is indeed closely linked with the legitimacy of the Church herself, in her character of bride of the ManGod; and therefore, his mission being to lead the bride to the Spouse, the Holy Ghost cannot suffer her to wander in the footprints of intruders. The inevitable play of human passions, interfering in the election of the Vicar of Christ, may perchance for a while render uncertain the transmission of spiritual power. But when it is proved that the Church, still holding, or once more put in possession of, her liberty, acknowledges in the person of a certain Pope, until then doubtful, the true Sovereign Pontiff, this her very recognition is a proof that, from that moment at least, the occupant of the Apostolic See is as such invested by God himself. This doctrine the Holy Ghost confirms, by giving thereto, in the Pontiff we are celebrating to-day, the consecration of martyrdom.

St Agapitus I died at Constantinople, whither Theodoric the Goth had persuaded him to go, in order to appease the anger of Justinian excited against this king by reason of his treasons. Scarcely had the news of this death reached the Arian prince, than he, in terror of perhaps seeing someone unfavourable to his pretensions raised to the pontificate, imperatively designated as successor to the deceased Pope, the deacon Silverius. Two months later the justice of God struck the tyrant, and the Church was set free. Doubtless, Rome would have but exercised her proper right had she rejected the Head thus imposed upon her by main force: for not to earthly princes has the Lord consigned the election of his Vicar upon earth. But Silverius, who had been an utter stranger to the violence used on his personal account, was in reality a man in every way fitted for the supreme pontificate. Therefore, when the Roman clergy became free to act, they had no wish to withdraw from him their adhesion, until then certainly disputable. From that moment undoubtedly Silverius could not but be Head of the Church, the true successor of Agapitus, the Lord's elect. In the midst of a period thronged with snares, he proved how well he understood the exigences of duty in his exalted office, and preferred an exile which would eventually cost him his life, to the abandonment of a post wherein the Holy Ghost had truly placed him. Holy Church gratefully bears witness to this, in her short eulogy of him; and the army of martyrs opened their ranks to receive him, when death at length struck the Pontiff in his land of exile.

Silverius Campanus, post Agapitum proxime Pontifex creatus est: cujus doctrina et sanctitas illuxit in insectandis hæreticis, et constantis animi magnitudo perspecta est in tuendo judicio Agapiti. Nam Anthimum, quem, quia Eutychianam hæresim defendebat, Agapitus ab episcopatu Constantinopolitano deposuerat, cum a Theodora Augusta sæpissime rogatus esset, restituere noluit. Quamobrem irata mulier mandat Belisario ut Silverium mittat in exsilium. Qui exsulavit in insula Pontia, unde his verbis scripsisse fertur ad Amatorem episcopum: Sustentor pane tribulationis et aqua angustiæ; nec tamen dimisi, aut dimitto offtcium meum. Et sane, brevi incommodis ærumnisque confectus obdormivit in Domino, duodecimo Kalendas Julii: cujus corpus Romam delatum, et in basilica Vaticana depositum, multis miraculis illustratum fuit. Præfuit Ecclesiæ annos tres et amplius, creati mense Decembri presbyteris tredecim, diaconis quinque, episcopis per diversa loca decem et novem.
Silverius was a native of Campania, and succeeded Agapitus in the papacy. His doctrine and holiness shone forth in his pursuit of heretics; and his strength of soul, in his firmness in upholding the sentence passed by Agapitus. Agapitus had deposed Anthimus from the patriarchate of Constantinople for defending the heresy of Eutyches; and Silverius would never allow of his restoration, although the empress Theodora repeatedly asked him to do so. The woman was enraged at him, on this account, and ordered Belisarius to send Silverius into exile. He was accordingly banished to the island of Ponza, whence, it is said, he wrote these words to bishop Amator: 'I am fed upon the bread of tribulation and the water of affliction, but nevertheless, I have not given up, and I will not give up, doing my duty.' Soon, indeed, worn out by grief and suffering, he slept in the Lord, on the twelfth of the Kalends of July. His body, being taken to Rome, was laid in the Vatican basilica and was made illustrious by numerous miracles. He ruled the Church for more than three years, and ordained in the month of December thirteen priests, five deacons, and nineteen bishops for divers sees.

The waters of tribulation passed indeed over thy soul,[1] O holy Pontiff! Thy persecutors were not pagan Caesars: nor was it even (as in the case of John I, who so shortly preceded thee on the papal throne and in the arena of martyrdom) an heretical prince that overpowered thee with sectarian hatred. A worthless woman, having in her service treason emanating from the very sanctuary, was thine oppressor. Even before death had done its work in thee, there was to be found a son of thine coveting thy dominion, heavy though such a burden was! But how could man rend asunder the indissoluble bond that bound thee to holy Church? The usurper could but be an intruder, until such time as the all-powerful merits of thy glorious death had obtained the transformation of the hireling into the legitimate Pastor, and had made this Vigilius become the heir of thine own courage.[2] Thus did the invisible Head of the Church permit, to hell's confusion, that ambition should carry scandals even into the very Holy of holies. The unshaken faith of nations, in the age in which thou didst live, suffered naught from all this; and the light resulting from these lamentable facts would but all the better serve to teach future ages that the personal character of a Pope, nay, even his faults, cannot in any way affect the heavenly prerogative assured by God to the Vicar of his Christ. Keep up within us, dear saint, the fruit of these teachings. If the faithful be but well penetrated with true principles, they will never see waning in them that respect due to God in his representatives, whosoever or whatsoever they may be; and scandal, no matter whence it come, will be powerless to trammel their faith.


[1] Ps. lxviii 2.
[2] It is not our place to forestall the Church in the defence of some of her Pontiffs. Nevertheless, apology has other duties; and ours seems to be here to remind our readers that the successor of St Silverius has met with able and learned defenders. Vigilius has not, it is true, been granted the honours of a public cultus, and until such be the case, the Church is not at all called upon to answer for his personal holiness. As regard; Silverius, the matter stands quite differently; he has been declared a saint. Still, so long as apology for Vigilius does not go to diminish the moral grandeur of St Silverius, which has been solemnly guaranteed by holy Church, it may be allowable.

 

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

OH! how exceeding great is the glory of Aloysius, son of Ignatius! Never could I have believed it, had not my Jesus shown it to me. Never could I have believed that such glory was to be seen in heaven!’ Thus cries out St Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, whose memory we were celebrating a month ago: she is speaking in ecstasy. From the heights of Carmel, whence her ken may reach beyond the heavens, she reveals to earth the splendour wherewith the youthful hero of this day shines amidst the celestial phalanxes.

Yet short was the life of Aloysius, and it had offered nothing to the superficial gaze of a vast majority, save the preliminaries, so to say, of a career broken off in its flower before bearing fruit of any kind. Ah! God does not take account of things as men do; of very slight weight are their appreciations in his judgement! Even in the case of saints themselves, the mere fractional number of years, or brilliant deeds, goes far less to the filling up of a lifetime, in his view, than does love. The usefulness of a human existence ought surely to be measured by the amount produced in it of what is lasting. Now beyond this present time charity remains alone, fixed for ever at the precise degree of growth attained during this life of passage. Little matters it, therefore, if ithout any long duration or any apparent works, one of God’s elect has developed in himself a love as great as, or greater than, some others have done, in the midst of many toils, be they never so holy, and throughout a long career admired of men.

The illustrious Society that gave Aloysius Gonzaga to holy Church owes the sanctity of her members and the benedictions poured upon their works to the fidelity she has ever professed to this important truth, which throws so much light on the Christian life. From the very first age of her history, it would seem that our Lord Jesus, not content with allowing her to assume his own blessed name, has been lovingly determined so to arrange circumstances in her regard that she may never forget wherein her real strength lies, in the midst of the actively militant career which he has especially opened before her. The brilliant works of St Ignatius her founder; of St Francis Xavier, the apostle of the Indies; of St Francis Borgia, the noble conquest of Christ’s humility; manifested truly wondrous holiness in them, and to the eyes of all; but these works had no other spring or basis than the hidden virtues of that other glorious triumvirate, in which, under the eye of God alone, by the sole strength of contemplative prayer, SS Stanislaus Kostka, Aloysius Gonzaga, and John Berchmans rose to such a degree of love, and consequently to the sanctity of their heroic fathers.

Again, it is by Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, the depositary of the secrets of the Spouse, that this mystery is revealed to us. In the rapture during which the glory of Aloysius was displayed before her eyes, she thus continues, while still under the influence of the Holy Ghost: 'Who could ever explain the value and the power of interior acts? The glory of Aloysius is so great simply because he acted thus interiorly. Between an interior act and that which is seen, there is no comparison possible. Aloysius, as long as he dwelt on earth, kept his eye attentively fixed on the Word; and this is just why he is so splendid. Aloysius was a hidden martyr; whosoever loveth thee, my God, knoweth thee to be so great, so infinitely lovable, that keen indeed is the martyrdom of such a one, to see clearly that he loves thee not so much as he desireth to love thee, and that thou art not loved by thy creatures, but art offended! . . . Thus he became a martyrdom unto himself. Oh! he did love while on earth! Wherefore now in heaven he possesses God in a sovereign plenitude of love. While still mortal, he discharged his bow at the heart of the Word; and now that he is in heaven, his arrows are all lodged in his own heart. For this communication of the Divinity, which he merited by the arrows of his acts of love and of union with God, he now verily and indeed possesses and clasps for ever.’

To love God, to allow his grace to turn our heart towards infinite Beauty, which alone can fill it, such is then the true secret of highest perfection. Who can fail to see how this teaching of to-day’s feast answers to the end pursued by the Holy Ghost ever since his coming down at our glorious Pentecost? This sweet and silent teaching was given by Aloysius, wheresoever he turned his steps, during his short career. Bom to heaven, in holy Baptism, almost before he was born to earth, he was a very angel from his cradle; grace seemed to gush from him into those who bore him in their arms, filling them with heavenly sentiments. At four years of age he followed the marquis his father into the camps; and thus some unconscious faults, which had not so much as tarnished his innocence, became for the rest of his life the object of a penitence that one would have thought beseemed some grievous sinner. He was but nine years old when, being taken to Florence, there to be perfected in the Italian language, he became the edification of the court of duke Francis:[1] but though the most brilliant in Italy, it failed to have any attraction for him, and rather served to detach him more decisively than ever from the world. During this period, likewise, at the feet of the miraculous picture of the Annunziata, he consecrated his virginity to our Lady.

The Church herself, in the Breviary Lessons, will relate the other details of that sweet life, in which, as is ever the case with souls fully docile to the Holy Ghost, heavenly piety never marred what was of duty in earthly things. It is because he was a true model for all youth engaged in study, that Aloysius has been proclaimed their protector. Of a singularly quick intelligence, as faithful to work as to prayer in the gay turmoil of city life, he mastered all the sciences then exacted of one of his rank. Very intricate negotiations of worldly interest were more than once confided to his management: and thus was opportunity afforded of realizing to what a high degree he might have excelled in government affairs. Here, again, he comes forward as an example to such as have friends and relatives who would fain hold them back, when on the threshold of the religious state, under pretence of the great good they may do in the world, and how much evil they may prevent. Just as though the Most High must be contented with useless nonentities in that select portion of men He reserves to himself amidst nations; or, as though the aptitudes of the richest and most gifted natures may not be turned all the better and all the more completely to God, their very principle, precisely because they are the most perfect. On the other hand, neither State nor Church ever really loses anything by this fleeing to God, this apparent throwing away of the best subjects! If, in the old law, Jehovah showed himself jealous in having the very best of all kinds of goods offered at his altar, his intention was not to impoverish his people. Whether admitted or not, it is a certain fact that the chief strength of society, the fountain-head of benediction and protection to the world, is always to be found in holocausts well pleasing to the Lord.

Aloysius, Ferdinandi Gonzagæ Castellionis Stiverorum Marchionis filius, festinato propter vitæ periculum baptismo, prius cœlo quam terris nasci visus, primam illam gratiam tam constanter retinuit, ut in ea confìrmatus crederetur. A primo rationis usu, quo se Deo statini obtulit, vitam duxit quotidie sanctiorem. Novennis Florentiæ ante aram beatæVirginis, quam parentis loco semper habuit, perpetuam virginitatem vovit: eamque, insigni Dei beneficio, nulla mentis aut corporis pugna tentatam servavit. Reliquas animi perturbationes cœpit ætate illa tam fortiter comprimere, ut ne primo quidem earum motu deinde incitaretur. Sensus etiam, oculos præcipue, ita cohibuit. ut non modo illos nunquam in faciem intenderit Mariæ Austriacæ, quam plures annos inter honorarios Hispaniarum principis ephebos fere quotidie salutavit; sed a matris etiam vultu contineret; homo propterea sine carne, aut angelus in carne merito appellatus.

Adjecit sensuum custodiæ corporis cruciatum. Tria singulis hebdomadis jejunia, eaque plerumque modico pane et aqua tolerabat. Quanquam perpetuum fuisse per id tempus ipsius jejunium videri potest, cum ejus prandia ferme vix unciam æquarent. S®pe etiam ter in die se funibus aut catenis cruentabat: flagella quandoque canum loris, cilicia equorum calcaribus supplevit. Mollem lectulum clam injectis asserum fragmentis asperabat, eo etiam ut citius ad orandum excitaretur. Magnam quipped noctis partem, summa etiam hieme, solo tectus indusio, positis humi genibus, vel præ languore jacens ac pronus, in cœlestium contemplatione traducebat. Interdiu quoque tres, quatuor, quinque horas in ea perstabat immotus; donec unam saltem animo nusquam distracto percurrisset. Cujus constantiæ præmium fuit stabilitas mentis inter orandum alio non vagantis, imo perpetua velut exstasi in Deo defixæ. Ei demum ut unice adhæreret, victo post triennale acerrimum certamen pætre, et aviti principatus jure in fratrem translato, Societati Jesu, ad quam cœlesti voce Matriti fuerat accitus, Romæ se adjunxit.

In tirocinio ipso virtutum omnium magister haberi cœpit. Exactissima in eo erat legum etiam minimarum custodia, mundi contemptus singularis, implacabile odium sui: Dei vero amor tam ardens, ut corpus etiam sensim absumeret. Jussus propterea mentem a divinis rebus tantisper avertere, occurrentem sibi ubique Deum irrito conatu fugiebat. Mira etiam proximos charitate amplexus, in publicis, quibus alacriter ministrabat, nosocomiis, contagiosam luem traxit. Qua lente consumptus, die quem prædixerat, undecimo Kalendas Julii, ætatis anno quarto et vigesimo jam inchoato, cum antea flagellis cædi, atque humi stratus mori postulasset, migravit in cœlum. Ibi eum Sancta Maria Magdalena de Pazzis tanta frui gloria, Deo monstrante, vidit, quantam vix esse in cœlo credidisset; ipsumque sanctimonia insignem, et charitate martyrem incognitum fuisse prædicavit. Multis etiam, magnisque claruit miraculis. Quibus rite probatis, Benedictus decimus tertius sanctorum fastis angelicum juvenem adscripsit, atque innocentiæ et castitatis exemplar simul et patronum studiosæ præsertim juventuti dedit.
Aloysius was son of Ferdinand Gonzaga, Marquis of Castiglione delle Stivere. He was so hurriedly baptized, on account of danger, that he seemed to be born to heaven almost before he was born to earth, and he so faithfully kept this his first grace, that he seemed to have been confirmed therein. From his first dawn of reason, which he used in offering himself to God, he led a life more holy day by day. At Florence, when he was nine years old, he made a vow of perpetual virginity, before the altar of the Blessed Virgin, upon whom he always looked as a Mother; and by a remarkable mercy from God, he kept this vow wholly and without the slightest impure temptation, either of body or of mind, during his whole life. As for any other perturbations of the soul, he began at that age to check them so sternly, that he was nevermore pricked by even their first movements. His senses, and especially his eyes, he so restrained, that he never once looked on the face of Mary of Austria, whom for several years he saluted almost every day, as page of honour in the court of the king of Spain; and he used the same reserve with regard to the face of his own mother: wherefore he might truly be called a man without flesh, or an angel in human flesh.

To this custody of the senses he added the maceration of the body. He fasted three days in every week, and that mostly upon a little bread and water. But indeed, he, as it were, fasted every day, for he hardly ever took so much as an ounce weight of food at his meal. Often also, even thrice a day, he would scourge himself to blood with cords or chains: sometimes he would supply the place of a discipline or hair shirt by dog-thongs or his own spurs. He secretly strewed his soft bed with pieces of broken wood or potsherds, that he might find it easier to wake to pray. He passed great part of the night even in the depth of winter clad only in his shirt, either kneeling on the ground, or lying prostrate when too weary to remain upright, occupied in heavenly contemplation. Sometimes he would keep himself thus immovable for three, four, or five hours, until he had spent at least one without any distraction of mind. Such constancy obtained for him the reward of being able to keep his understanding quite concentrated in prayer without any wandering of mind, as though rapt in God, in unbroken ecstasy. In order that he might henceforth adhere to him alone, having overcome the bitter resistance of his father in a sharp contest of three years' duration, and having procured the transfer of his right to the marquisate to his brother, he joined, at Rome, the Society of Jesus, to which he had been called by a voice from heaven when he was at Madrid.

In his very novitiate he began to be held as a master of all virtues. His obedience even to the most trifling rules was absolutely exact, his contempt of the world extraordinary, and his hatred of self implacable. His love of God was so ardent, that it gradually undermined his bodily strength. Being commanded, therefore, to divert his mind for a while from divine things, he struggled vainly to distract himself from God who met him everywhere. From tender love towards his neighbour, he joyfully ministered to the sick in the public hospitals. and in the exercise of this charity he caught the contagion. Whereby, being consumed, on the very day he had predicted, the eleventh of the Kalends of July, in the twenty-fourth year of his age, he departed to heaven, having previously begged to receive the discipline and to be placed upon the ground to die. What the glory is which he there enjoys, St Mary Magdalene de Pazzi was enabled by the revelation of God to behold; and she declared that it was such as she had hardly believed existed in heaven, and that his holiness and love were so great that she could declare him to be a hidden martyr. On earth, God glorified him by many miracles. These being duly proved, Benedict XIII inserted the name of this angelic youth in the calendar of the saints, and commended him to all young scholars, both as a pattern of innocence and chastity and as principal patron.

‘Venerable old age is not that of long time, nor counted by the number of years: but the understanding of man is grey hairs; and a spotless life is old age.’[2] And therefore, Aloysius, thou dost hold a place of honour amidst the ancients of thy people! Glory be to the holy Society in the midst whereof thou didst, in so short a space, fulfil a long course; obtain that she may ever continue to treasure, both for herself and others, the teaching that flows from thy life of innocency and love. Holiness is the one only thing, when life is ended, that can be called a true gain; and holiness is acquired from within. External works count with God, only in as far as the interior breath that inspires them is pure; if occasion for exercising works be wanting, man can always supply that deficiency by drawing nigh unto the Lord, in the secrecy of his soul, as much as, and even more than, he could have done by their means. Thus didst thou see and understand the question; and therefore prayer, which held thee absorbed in its ineffable delights, succeeded in making thee equal to the very martyrs. What a priceless treasure was prayer in thine eyes, what a heaven-lent boon, and one that is indeed in our reach too, just as it was in thine! But in order to find therein, as thou didst express it, 'the short cut to perfection,' perseverance is needed and a careful elimination from the soul, by a generous selfrepression, of every emotion which is not of God. For how could muddy or troubled waters mirror forth the image of him who stands on their brink? Even so, a soul that is sullied, or a soul that without being quite a slave of passion is not yet mistress of every earthly perturbation, can never reach the object of prayer, which is to reproduce within her the tranquil image of her God.

The reproduction of the one great model was perfect in thee; and hence it can be seen how nature (as regards what she has of good), far from losing or suffering aught, rather gains by this process of recasting in the divine crucible. Even in what touches the most legitimate affections, thou didst look at things no longer from the earthly point of view; but beholding all in God, far were the things of sense transcended, with all their deceptive feebleness, and wondrously did thy love grow in consequence! For instance, what could be more touching than thy sweet attentions, not only upon earth, but even from thy throne in heaven, for that admirable woman given thee by our Lord to be thine earthly mother? Where may tenderness be found equal to the affectionate effusions written to her by thee in that letter of a saint to the mother of a saint, which thou didst address to her shortly before quitting thine earthly pilgrimage? And still more, what exquisite delicacy thou didst evince, in making her the recipient of thy first miracle, worked after thine entrance into glory! Furthermore, the Holy Ghost, by setting thee on fire with the flame of divine charity, developed also within thee immense love for thy neighbour: necessarily so, because charity is essentially one; and well was this proved when thou wast seen sacrificing thy life so blithely for the sick and the plague-stricken.

Cease not, O dearest saint, to aid us in the midst of so many miseries; lend a kindly hand to each and all. Christian youth has a special claim upon thy patronage, for it is by the Sovereign Pontiff himself that this precious portion of the flock is gathered around thy throne. Direct their feeble steps along the right path, so often enticed to turn into dangerous by-roads; may prayer and earnest toil, for God's dear sake, be their stay and safeguard; may they be enlightened in the serious matter before them of choosing a state of life. We beseech thee, dearest saint, exert strong influence over them during this most critical period of their opening years, so that they may truly experience all the potency of that fair privilege which is ever thine, of preserving in thy devout clients the angelical virtue! Yea, furthermore, Aloysius, look compassionately on those who have not imitated thine innocence, and obtain that they may yet follow thee in the example of thy penance; such is the petition of holy Church this day!


[1] It is of interest to recollect that Marie de Médicis, the future Queen of France, was at that time a child in the same court.
[2] Wisd. iv 8, 9.

 

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

LET the heavens rejoice, let the Island of Saints exult, and let all the universe shout with her a song of victory; for now indeed has earth been everywhere empurpled with the blood of testimony. Alban, ProtoMartyr of fruitful Britain,[1] seals to-day the conquest of the far West. Already, doubtless, even from the earliest days, Albion had yielded abundant flowers beneath the footsteps of the Spouse, whose giant stride[2] had reached even unto her. Later on Eleutherius and Lucius had added the fresh charm of other plants to this new garden, wherein, far away from sterile Juda, the Man-God could forget the haughty disdain of the daughter of Sion. Jesus loves, indeed, flower-beds exhaling the fragrance of confession and of praise;[3] but still flowers of peace may not alone form the diadem of this powerful Son of the God of armies.[4] The beauty he received from his Mother was enhanced by the blood shed by him in the great battle, and to obtain favour in his eyes, the bride too is called upon to mingle her own brilliant purple with the glistening whiteness of his lilies.

Glory, then, to our Proto-Martyr! Glory to him by whom Albion, fully arrayed for the nuptials of the Lamb, advances side by side with the most illustrious Churches, and takes her seat with them at the banquet of the strong![5] From the heights of heaven, the glorious choir of apostles and the white-robed army of martyrs are thrilling with joy, as in the brightest days of the three hundred years' struggle, prolonged, perchance, on purpose to give ancient Britain a chance of sharing in their triumph. Persecution was nearing its close; and even from British soil, the last to be touched by the tidal wave of martyrs’ blood, would deliverance come. On June 22, 303, Alban, our new Stephen, died, breathing a prayer for his murderers, beside the banks of a tributary of the Thames: on July 25, 306, Constantine, having just escaped the snares of Galerius, was proclaimed at York, and he started thence to unfurl the standard of salvation to the whole world.

Later on, to the victorious combats of the cross succeeded heresy’s contesting struggle to wrest from God nations already won to his Christ in holy Baptism. Whilst the East was going astray in misconceptions of the Incarnate Word, the West was carping at doctrines concerning free will and grace, a fatal stumbling-block which would be thrown in again at a more distant epoch.

Pelagius, the heretic here in question, was condemned by the Church, and the stone of error hurled against her gave but a passing shock.

The tomb of Alban was the curbing point of hell’s efforts at that time, and here ended the final troubles caused by the Pelagian attack. St Lupus of Troyes and St Germanus of Auxerre, sent from the Continent to maintain the cause of grace, ascribed to our British martyr the whole honour of their victory, whereby peace was given to the Western Church. To show that this second defeat of hell’s power was indeed the completion of that which a century previously had ended the era of blood, these two holy bishops respectfully opened the glorious tomb, and united to the remains of our noble Alban some relics of the apostles and martyrs, the fruit of whose triumph had just been definitively sealed.

For a thousand years were the depths of the abyss closed:[6] years of power, years of honour for Alban, venerated alike by each successive race that lived on our British shore. The Anglo-Saxons outstripped the Britons in the magnificence of the structure they raised on the site of the church formerly built over the martyr’s tomb in the first era of his victory; the Danes even considered his holy body to be their noblest conquest; and under the Normans, the abbey founded by Offa of Mercia beheld popes and kings concert together in raising its prerogatives and glory to the highest pitch. No monastic church on this side of the Channel would compare with St Alban's in its privileges;[7] and just as Alban is counted England's first martyr, so was the abbot of his monastery held first in dignity among all abbots of this realm.[8]

For a thousand years Alban too reigned with Christ.[9] At last came the epoch when the depths of the abyss were to be let loose for a little time, and Satan, unchained, would once again seduce nations. Vanquished formerly by the saints, power was now given him to make war with them, and to overcome them in his turn.[10] The disciple is not above his Master:[11] like his Lord, Alban too was rejected by his own. Hated without cause, he beheld the illustrious monastery destroyed, that had been Albion's pride in the palmy days of her history; and scarce was even the venerable church itself saved, wherein God's athlete had so long reposed, shedding benefits around far and near. But, after all, what could he do now, in a profaned sanctuary, in which strange rites had banished those of our forefathers, and condemned the faith for which martyrs had bled and died? So Alban was ignominiously expelled, and his ashes scattered to the winds.

The eulogy (unfortunately very meagre) dedicated by England, still faithful to her Proto-Martyr, sums up in the following lines the combat of this hero of the Lord:

Albanus, cum imperatorum Diocletiani et Maximiani mandata adversus Christianos sævirent, paganus adhuc clericum quemdam persecutores fugientem hospitio recepit. Quem dum orationibuscontinuis ac vigiliis die noctuque studere conspiceret, subito divina gratia respectus, exemplum fidei ac pietatis ejus cœpit æmulari, ac salutaribus ejusdem exhortationibus paulatim edoctus, relictis idololatriæ tenebris Christianus integro ex corde factus est.

Cum autem hunc clericum persecutores quærerent, et ad tugurium Albani pervenissent, hic se pro hospite et magistro suo ipsius habitu, id est caracalla, indutus militibus exhibuit; a quibus loris revinctus ad judicem ductus est. Qui cum illudi se cerneret, cædi sanctum Dei confessorem a tortoribus præcepit, ac demum cum tormentis illum superari, vel a cultu Christianæ religionis revocari non posse perciperet, capite eum plecti jussit.

Cum igitur ad verticem vicini montis Albanus pervenisset, carnifex, qui illum percussurus erat, divino admonitus instinctu, projecto ense, pedibus sancti advolvitur, desiderans ut cum martyre, vel pro martyre, ipse potius moreretur. Decollatus autem Albanus ibidem accepit coronam vitæ quam repromisit Deus diligentibus se. Decollatus est et miles ille, qui Dei confessorem ferire recusavit: de quo nimirum constat, quod etsi fonte baptismatis non est ablutus, sui tamen est sanguinis lavacro mundatus, ac regni cœlestis dignus factus ingresu. Passus est autem Albanus juxta Verolamium die decimo Kalendarum Juliarum.
When the mandates of the emperors Diocletian and Maximian were raging against the Christians, Alban, as yet a pagan, received into his house a certain priest fleeing from persecution. Now, when he beheld how this priest persevered day and night in constant watching and prayer, he was suddenly touched by divine grace, so that he was fain to imitate the example of his faith and piety; and being instructed by degrees, through his salutary exhortations, forsaking the darkness of idolatry, he with his whole heart became a Christian.

The persecutors, being in search of this cleric, came to Alban's house; whereupon, disguised in the cleric’s apparel —namely, in the caracalla—he presented himself to the soldiers in place of his master and guest; by them he was bound with thongs, and led off to the judge. This latter, finding himself thus deceived, ordered that the holy confessor of God should be beaten by the executioners; and, perceiving at last that he could neither overcome him by torments, nor win him over from the worship of the Christian religion, he commanded his head to be struck off.

Alban having reached the brow of the neighbouring hill, the executioner who was to despatch him, admonished by a divine inspiration, casting away his sword, threw himself at the saint's feet, desiring to die, either with the martyr, or instead of him. Alban, being at once beheaded, received the crown of life, which God hath promised to them that love him. The soldier, who had refused to strike him, was likewise beheaded: concerning whom it is quite certain that, albeit he was not washed in the baptismal font, still was he made clean in the laver of his own blood, and so made worthy of entering into the kingdom of heaven. Alban suffered at Verulam, on the tenth of the Kalends of July.

‘I was a stranger, and you took me in,’ will our Lord say to his elect, on the great judgement day;[12] and to the inquiries of the elect as to the meaning of this word of his, our Lord will explain that whatsoever they did to the least of their brethren, they did it unto him. But thou, O Alban, knowest all this beforehand; that last hour, in which both the good and the wicked will hearken to their eternal doom, will reveal to the world, on this point, only what thou didst experience in thy very first steps along the path of salvation. By harbouring within thy yet pagan house this unknown fugitive, thou deemedst that thou wast but yielding to the instincts of a heart naturally generous and faithful to the laws of hospitality! But, far other than thou believedst was this stranger that came knocking at thy door; for ere he left thee, it was manifest that Christ himself had become thy guest. Full soon did he invite thee, in return, to come and dwell in his own home, and the triumphant gate of martyrdom presently opened unto thee his heavenly palace.

The way to God, traced in thy blood, lies opened wide in this great island of ours. Long did the foe seem unable to cast his snares here: and thy fellowcitizens of earth were to be seen flocking in crowds along this blessed pathway. Yea, nations thou didst never know came in their turn also, esteeming it an honour to forget, as it were, diversity of origin and rights of conquest, when united in thy name, O Alban, they paid homage to thee, glorious Proto-Martyr of this land. Thus wast thou both the stem of this supernatural efflorescence which made ours to be the Island of Saints, and the link of national unity in the divers phases of our history. Thou didst gather together the sons of St Benedict around the couch whereon thou wast reposing while awaiting the day of resurrection; thou didst assemble them in that splendid temple dedicated to thee by a grateful people; thou didst invite them to the ministry of divine praise, whereby celebrating past benefits and daily blessings, they might also merit for thy fatherland a continuation of heaven's favours. Grand indeed were those ages, wherein God by his saints thus ruled the world; and sadly misguided are those who think to serve the cause of the Lord and of nations, by suppressing the homage of foregoing generations to these their illustrious protectors.

Since thou wast treated, O Alban, like to thy divine Master, the King of saints, like him also remember not the injuries we have inflicted on thee. Rather, O thou our Proto-Martyr, exult in the triumph of all the other warriors who swell the ranks of the sacred phalanx, placed under thy command in our eternal home. If for a while the era of martyrs seems once again to be closed, consider those of thy children whose constancy has survived so many rough assaults; bless those families in which has ever been kept alive the faith of the olden times; a noble-hearted race are they, whose forefathers exposed themselves like thee, even unto death, in harbouring priests. Uphold the new sons of the cloister in maintaining at a high standard those monastic traditions handed to them even in the very midst of the tempest; multiply, everywhere, labourers called in to repair our ruins.

The voice of the Lord is heard once more in Albion. The holy virtue of hospitality which was, in thy case, the beginning of salvation, has proved to her also, in these our own days, an occasion for her return to the ancestral faith, just as though God willed that, in this instance likewise, her history should be linked with thine. Like thee, she hath received priests from beyond the seas, driven to her coasts from the storm of persecution; like thee, hath she not even already heard that word of divine approval: 'I was a stranger, and you took me in? May she then go the whole length in her imitation of thee, her protector and father, by following the heavenly invitation to the last, so as to conclude with the ancient writer of the acts of thy martyrdom: 'The known truth shall be our island's joy; great shall be our gladness when the fetters of falsehood are broken. For my part, without further delay, I will go to Rome, I will there cast off mine error, there merit reconciliation and pardon of my faults; yea, this very book I hold in my hands, I will present to the revision of them that dwell in that city, so that should aught unseemly be written therein, the Lord Jesus Christ may vouchsafe to correct it by their means, he who reigneth God for ever and ever. Amen.’[13]


[1] Venant. Fortun. De Virginit. 155.
[2] Ps. xviii 6.
[3] Cant. vi 1.
[4] Ps. xliv 4.
[5] Apoc. xix 7.
[6] Apoc. xx 3.
[7] Matth. Paris, edit. 1684, p. 1020.
[8] Ex regest. Honor. III, Privileg. de Omnibus libertat. S Albani.
[9] Apoc. xx. 4.
[10] Ibid. xiii 7.
[11] St John xv 18-25.
[12] St Matt. xxv 35.
[13] Acta SS Albani, Amphibali et Sociorum, DXC Anglice scripta, v 46, Bolland., Junii iv, p. 159.

 

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

WHILE we were celebrating the infancy of our divine Lord, Felix of Nola rejoiced our hearts with the sight of his sanctity at once so triumphant and yet so humble, revealing under humblest aspects the potency of our Emmanuel. Illumined by the fires of Pentecost, Paulinus now comes before us from that very same town of Nola, doing honour by his glory to him whose happy conquest he was. For indeed the sublime path whereby he was to ascend to heaven was not at first opened before him; and Felix it was who, at a somewhat tardy hour, cast into his soul the first seeds of salvation.

Paulinus, heir to an immense fortune, and at twentyfive years of age already Prefect of Rome, senator, and consul, was far from supposing that there could be a career more honourable for himself or more profitable to the world, than that in which he was thus engaged by the traditions of his illustrious family. Verily, to the eyes of worldly men, no lot in life could be conceived better cast, surrounded as he was by noble connections, buoyed up by the well deserved esteem of great and little, and finding repose in the culture of letters which had already from his earliest youth rendered him the very pride of brilliant Aquitaine, where at Bordeaux he first saw the light. Alas! in our days how many are undeservedly set up as models of a laborious and useful life!

The day came, however, when these lowly careers, which heretofore seemed so brimful of work and prospect, now offered to Paulinus but the spectacle of men ‘tossed to and fro in the midst of days of emptiness, and having for their life’s toil naught but the weaving of the spider-web of vain works.’[1] What then had happened? It was this: once, when in the Campania, which was subject to his government, Paulinus happened to come to the hallowed tomb of St Felix, that humble priest heretofore proscribed by this very Rome, whose power was symbolized by the terrible fasces borne at that moment in front of him; suddenly floods of new light inundated his soul; Rome and her power became dark as night before this apparition 'of the grand rights of the awful God.’[2] With his whole heart this scion of many an ancient race, that had brought the world to subjection, now pledged his faith to God; Christ, revealing himself in the light of Felix, had won his love.[3] He had long enough sought and run in vain; at last he had found 'that naught is of greater worth than to believe in Jesus Christ.’[4]

A man of so noble a soul as Paulinus carried this new principle, that had taken the place of every other, to its utmost limit. Jesus said: 'If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell what thou hast and give to the poor: and then come and follow me.’[5] Paulinus did not hesitate: not for a moment would he neglect what was best to prefer what was least;[6] up to this, perfect in his worldly career, could he now endure not to be so for his God? He renounced his vast possessions, styled even kingdoms;[7] the various nations of the empire, before which were displayed his incalculable riches, were astounded at the new commerce: Paulinus sold all, in order to purchase the cross and follow his God.[8] For he was well aware that the abandonment of earthly goods is but the entrance to the lists, and not the race itself; the athlete does not become victor by the mere fact of casting off his garments; but he strips himself solely with the view of beginning combat; nor has the swimmer already breasted the flood, because he stands prepared and stripped on the water's brink.[9]

In holy impetuosity, Paulinus rather cut, than unknotted, the cable that moored his bark to land.[10] Christ is his steersman:[11] and with the applause of his noble wife Therasia (henceforth his sister and imitator), he sailed to the secure port of the monastic life, thinking only of saving his soul.[12] One thought alone held him in suspense: ought he to retire to Jerusalem where so many memories invite a disciple of Christ? Jerome, whom he consulted, answered with all the frankness of strong friendship: ‘For clerks, towns: for monks, solitude. It would be utter folly to quit the world in order to live in the midst of a crowd greater than before. If you wish to be what you are called, a monk, that is to say, “alone,” what are you doing in towns, which surely are not the habitation for solitaries, but for the multitude? Each kind of life has its models. Ours has Paul and Anthony, Hilarion and Macarius; our guides are Elias, Eliseus, and all those sons of the prophets, who dwelt in country places and in solitudes, pitching their tents near Jordan's banks.’[13]

Paulinus followed the counsels of the solitary of Bethlehem. Preferring his title of monk to abiding even in the holy city, and seeking the ‘small field’ of which Jerome had spoken, he chose a spot in the territory of Nola, outside the town, near to the glorious tomb where light had beamed upon him. Until his dying day, Felix took the place, here below, of home, of honours, of fortune, of relatives. In his sanctuary he grew, changing, by virtue of the divine seed of the Word within him, his terrestrial form, and receiving in his new being celestial wings, the one object of his ambition, which might lift him up towards God.[14] The world might no longer count on him, either to enhance her feasts or be the recipient of her appointments; absorbed in voluntary penance and humiliation, the former consul was nothing henceforth but the last of the servants of Christ and the guardian of a tomb.[15]

Great was the joy of the saints in heaven and of holy men on earth, at the news of such a spectacle of total renunciation given to the world. No less great was the indignant astonishment of the scandalized[16] politicians, of the prudent according to this world, of a host of men to whom the Gospel is tolerable only when its maxims do not jar with the short-sighted prejudices of their wisdom. ‘What will the great say?’ wrote St Ambrose. ‘The scion of such a family, of such a race, one so gifted, so eloquent, to quit the senate! to cut off the succession of such an ancestral line! It is quite intolerable! Yet look at these very men, when their own whims are at stake; they then see nothing extraordinary in inflicting on themselves transformations the most ridiculous; but if a Christian anxious about perfection dares to change his costume, he is cried down at once with indignation!’[17]

Paulinus, unmoved, withstood all these attacks, and knew well that his example was not likely to be followed by many. He was aware how God manifests in the few what might become profitable to the many, if they would but accept it, and thus is divine Providence justified.[18] Even as the traveller does not turn aside from his road by reason of a few barking dogs, so those who enter on the narrow path of the Lord should despise the remarks of the worldly and profane; rejoicing rather that they are displeasing to those to whom even God is likewise displeasing. Scripture suffices to show us what to think of them and of ourselves. So far his own words.[19]

Resolute in his silence and in his determination to leave the dead to bury their dead,[20] the heart of our saint deemed it needful to make one exception, urged by delicacy of feeling, in favour of his former master, Ausonius. Paulinus had remained the favourite pupil of this famous rhetorician, in whose school, at that period, even emperors were formed. Ausonius had always been to him as a friend and a father; and the old poet's soul, transpierced with grief at the departure of this son of his love, was now pouring itself out in wails and complaints, enough to rend the heart of Paulinus. Paulinus wished to try to elevate this soul so dear to him, above the senseless form of that mould, those mythological vanities, in which his life was still cast. He therefore chose to justify his recent step in a poem, the exquisite gracefulness of which was calculated to delight Ausonius and to win him over to taste the depth of that Christian sense whereby his former pupil was inspired with a poetry so new to a time-honoured disciple of Apollo and the Muses.

He thus addresses him:

Father, wherefore art thou fain to win me back to the worship of the Muses? Another power now pervades my soul, a God greater than old Apollo. The true, the good have I found at the very source of Goodness and Truth, even in God, beheld in his Christ. Exchanging his Divinity for our human nature, in a sublime commerce, at once Man and God, he, the master of virtues, transforms our being and replaces former pleasures by delights wholly chaste. By means of faith in a future life, he subdues within us the vain agitations of the present life. Even these riches which we seem to contemn, he does not reject as either impure or worthless; but, merely teaching us how to love them in a better way, He leads us to commit them to the care of God, who, in return, promises yet more. Call not stupid him who devotes himself to a merchandise the most advantageous and by far the most secure. And what of filial piety? Can it be wanting in a Christian? Could I possibly fail to pay it thee, O father, unto whom I owe everything, science, honours, renown; to thee, who by thy care hast prepared me for Christ by cultivating his gifts? Yea, verily, Christ is about to reward thee for this fruit nurtured by thy sap: reject not this his praise of thee, disown not the waters that have welled out from thy fountain. Thy tenderness is hurt at my withdrawing to a distance; but prithee, forgive one whom thou lovest, if he do but that which is expedient. I have vowed my heart to God, I have believed in Christ; on the faith of the divine counsels, I have with the goods of time bought an eternal recompense. Father, I cannot believe that thou shouldst tax me with folly for this. Such errors as these inspire me with no repentance, I rather rejoice to be held a fool by those who follow another path; it suffices me that the eternal King accounts me wise. All that is of man is short, frail, perishable, and without Christ, but dust and shadow; whether he approve or condemn, the judgement is worth no more than the judge; he dieth, and his judgement fadeth away with himself. When at the supreme moment all is laid bare, tardy then will lamentation be, and of small avail the excuse of him who till then has cringed before the vain outcries of men’s tongues, and has not dreaded the wrathful vengeance of the divine Judge. For my part, I believe; and fear is my goad; I would not that the last day catch me asleep in darkness, or so laden as that I may not fly up on lightest wing to meet my King in mid-heaven. Wherefore, cutting short all hesitation, all ties, all pleasures of earth, I would fain be ready for any event. Alive still, I have nevertheless done with life’s cares; I have confided to God my goods for ages to come, in order to be able, with tranquil heart, to await grim death. If thou approve, congratulate a friend rich in high hope; if not, suffer that I look to Jesus Christ alone for approbation.[21]

Nothing better than such language as this could give an idea of what our fathers were of the olden time, with their simplicity replete at once with grace and force, and that logic of faith, which, resting on the word of God, had need of nothing else for reaching heroism at one bound. Indeed one may ask, where else could be found anything capable of deducing itself more naturally than the resolutions disclosed to us by Paulinus? What sound practical sense, in all the true and grand signification of the word, does this staunch Roman maintain in his holiness! Here is easily recognized St Augustine’s lovable correspondent, who, having been interrogated by the great Doctor on his opinion touching certain doubtful points of the future life, thus replied so charmingly: 'Thou dost condescend to ask my opinion regarding the occupation of the blessed after the resurrection of the flesh. But if thou didst only know how I disquiet myself far more about this present life, about what I am in it, about what I can do in it! Be thou rather my master and my physician; teach me to do the will of God, to walk in thy footsteps, following Christ; would that, first of all, I may come to die, like thee, this evangelical death which precedes and secures the other.’[22] Our saint, however, who was bent on nothing but imitating and learning, soon appeared as one of the most brilliant luminaries of holy Church. The humble retreat where he thought to hide himself became the resort of illustrious patricians and their ladies, the centre of attraction for all the choicest souls of that century. From places the most distant and the widest apart, Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, Martin, together with their disciples, raised their voice in one concert of praise —we were going to say unanimous, were it not that, for the greater sanctification of his servant, God permitted one painful exception at the commencement. Certain members of the Roman clergy, moved (in a sense other than was fitting) by the marks of veneration lavished on this monk, had striven, and not without success, to circumvent, under specious pretexts, the supreme Pontiff himself; and Pope Siricius therefore was brought so far as to be almost on the point of separating Paulinus from his communion.[23] But the meekness and longanimity of the servant of God were not slow in bringing Siricius back to himself, from the error into which his surroundings had led him: envy at last had to turn its teeth elsewhere.

Space does not permit us to descant longer on this noble career. We must allow the Nocturn Lesson, short as it is, to complete these pages. In conclusion, let us recollect that the liturgy is greatly indebted to St Paulinus for the precious details contained in his letters and poems, chiefly as regards Christian architecture and the symbolism of its various parts, the cultus of images, the honour due to saints and to their sacred relics. A tradition, but one which unfortunately is not sufficiently established to exclude all doubt, attributes to him the first liturgical use of bells. It is said that, by enlarging the dimensions of the ancient small bell, he transformed it into this noble instrument so well fitted to become the voice of the Church herself, and to which Campania and Nola have therefore bequeathed their names —i.e., nolœ, campanœ, both Latin designations of church bells.

Paulinus Nolæ episcopus, eruditus studiis humanitatis, doctus etiam divinis litteris, multa eleganter et ornate scripsit versibus et soluta oratione. Hujus viri caritas præcipue celebratur, quod vastata a Gothis Campania, omnem facultatem, ne relictis quidem sibi rebus ad vitam necessariis, in alendos pauperes et captivos redimendos contulerit. Quo tempore, ut scribit sanctus Augustinus, ex opulentissimo divite voluntate pauperrimus, et copiosissime sanctus, captus a barbaris sic Deum precabatur: Domine, ne excrucier propter aurum et argentum: ubi enim sint omnia mea, tu scis. Postea vero Wandalis easdem regiones infestantibus, cum ab eo posceret vidua ut filium redimerei, consumptis rebus omnibus in officio pietatis, seipsum pro illo in servitutem tradidit.

Igitur in Africani profectus, domini sui, qui regis erat gener, hortum colendum suscepit. Verum cum prophetiæ dono regis mortem ipsi domino prædixisset, et rex in somnis Paulinum sedentem medium inter duos judices, sibique de manibus eripientem flagellum vidisset: tantus vir cognitus honorificentissime dimissus est, condonatis ei omnibus suis civibus, qui captivi fuerant. Nolam reversus ad episcopale officium, cum verbo et exemplo omnes ad pietatem christianam inflammaret, laterum dolore correptus est; mox cubiculum, in quo jacebat, terræmotu contremuit, ac paulo post animam Deo reddidit.
Paulinus, bishop of Nola, instructed in human letters and the Holy Scriptures, composed, both in verse and prose, many elegant and remarkable works. The charity of this man was particularly celebrated: for when Campania was being ravaged by the Goths, he devoted all his substance to the feeding of the poor and the redeeming of captives, not reserving to himself even the necessaries of life. At which time, as Saint Augustine writes, having from the greatest opulency voluntarily come down to the utmost exigency, yet withal most rich in sanctity, being now taken captive by the barbarians, he made this prayer to God: ‘ Lord, suffer me not to be put to the torture for the sake of gold and silver; verily, where all my riches are, thou well knowest.' Afterwards, when the Vandals were infesting these shores, he, being entreated by a widow to redeem her son, all his effects being now consumed in works of charity, delivered himself up to slavery in place of the young man.

Wherefore, being taken into Africa, he received the charge of cultivating the garden of his master, who was son-in-law of the king. At length, by the gift of prophecy having foretold to his master the death of the king, and the king himself having likewise in a dream beheld Paulinus, seated between two other judges, wrest from his hands the scourge which he held; how great a man he was, being thus made known, he was honourably dismissed, and was moreover granted the liberation of all his fellow-citizens who had been led away captives with him. Being now returned to Nola and to his episcopal functions, by word and example he more and more inflamed all unto Christian piety, until at last, being seized by a pain in his side, presently the chamber wherein he lay was shaken by an earthquake, and shortly afterwards he rendered up his soul to God.

Thy goods are now all restored to thee, O thou who didst believe the word of the Lord! At the very time so many others vainly sought to retain their treasure, thine was already in safety. Ah! what lamentations reached thine ears, amidst the frightful crumbling down of that mighty empire, of which thou hadst been so noble and powerful a magistrate! Thy colleagues in honour, as well as thine equals in wealth, were guilty, it is true, of no fault in not imitating thy voluntary renunciation; but when the terrific hour came, wherein nobility was but a more sure title to greater woe, wherein riches brought naught to their possessors save despair and torture, to how many then, even in a worldly sense, did thy prudence appear the best! Thou hadst said to thyself that the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and that the violent bear it away:[24] but could that violence thou hadst imposed on thyself by breaking, for the sake of better bonds, thy fetters here below be compared to that which more than one of thy former detractors had himself now to endure, and that without profit either for this life or the next? Thus does it often happen, even beyond these sad periods in which the universe seems delivered up to wreck and ruin. The privations demanded by God of those that are his fall short of the sufferings frequently imposed by the world on its votaries.

Ill indeed did it beseem such men as Albinus or Symmachus to stigmatize as cowardly desertion thy retiring into solitude at Christ’s call, seeing that they themselves drew down upon Rome this deluge of wrath by their obstinate attachment to expiring paganism! If the empire could have been saved, it would have been saved by thy imitators, such as Pammachius, Aper, and others, who, few as they were, made thee cry out: 'O Rome, naught wouldst thou have to fear of the threats uttered against thee in the Apocalypse, if all thy senators understood, as these do, the duty of their charge.’[25] What a counterpoise would have been presented to divine vengeance, if that spectacle had been less rare, such as thou hast described it in one of thy finest poems![26] It was the morrow of the dread invasion of Radagaisus; ancient Rome now expiring was invoking more vainly than ever her senseless gods; but from Nola there arose to the Most High the voice of praise, powerful as the living psaltery, by whose harmonious notes its accents were borne to heaven. Noble indeed was this instrument, the ten strings of which were named, on the one side, Æmilius, Paulinus, Apronianus, Pinianus, Asterius; on the other, Albina, Therasia, Avita, Melania, Eunomia: all clear and bright, either following in the footsteps of Cecilia and Valerian, or vowed to God from infancy; all alike in virtue, though unlike in sex, and forming but one choir, at the tomb of Felix, singing sacred hymns. In their suite, and in union with them, was a numerous train of illustrious persons and virgins, all chanting alike to the same Lord, appeasing his ire against a cursed land, and at least retarding his wrathful blow.[27] Ten just men could have saved Sodom; but more than ten were needed for this ‘Babylon drunk with the blood of martyrs,’ for this ‘mother of the fornications and the abominations of the earth.’[28] None the less have ye gained your reward, and even beyond yourselves your labour has been fruitful. Faith can never be sterile; since the days of Abraham,[29] faith has ever been the great element of fecundity for the whole world. If Rome's degenerate sons refused to understand, in the fourth century, the lesson that was being read to them by the heirs of the noblest families of the empire, if they could not or would not see where alone salvation was to be found, by your faith, O illustrious companions of Paulinus, there is bom unto heaven a new race, doing honour to a new Rome, and far outdoing in mighty deeds the old patricians! Like thee, O Paulinus, ‘contemplating in light divine the primitive ages and then those that followed, we must admire the depths of the Creator's work, and this mysterious lineage prepared for the Romans of bygone days during the night of ages.’[30]

Glory, then, to thee, who didst not turn a deaf ear to the Gospel;[31] and strong in faith, didst conquer the prince of this world. Restore to the present age, so like thine own in its utter ruin, that frank love of truth, that simplicity of faith, which in the fourth and fifth centuries saved the baptized world from shipwreck. There is not less light now than there was then; nay, rather, light has been increased by reason of the incessant labours of the doctors of the Church and the further definitions of Pontiffs. The fact is, that truth, though always equally powerful for the saving of man,[32] delivers none but those who live by faith; and hence it is that dogma, though more and more fully defined, does not in these days raise men's minds to a higher standard. Dogma must not remain a dead letter; Jesus Christ did not transmit it to his Church in the form of a speculative theory; nor, when the Church expounds it to her children, does she aim merely at charming the ears of her hearers by beauty of style or amplitude of development. God's word is a seed;[33] it is cast on the ground, not to be hidden there, but to germinate there, to grow up there, to tower above all other growths there,[34] because its right as well as its might is to appropriate to itself the whole sap of the earth that has received it; so far even as to transform this same soil itself, so that it may yield all that God expects thereof. At least, O Paulinus, may this divine seed produce its full effect in all those who give thee their admiration and offer thee their prayers! Without diminishing the truths of Scripture, without pretending to interpret, according to the whims of earthly fancies, the words of our Lord, thou didst take to the letter everything that should be so taken; and therefore thou art now a saint. Oh! may every word of God be thus also uncompromisingly accepted by us; may each word be the ruling principle of our thoughts and of our actions!

On this day which ushers in the Vigil of the Nativity of St John the Baptist, we can but recall thine own tender devotion to the friend of the Bridegroom. The place thou holdest in the cycle makes thee the herald of God's precursor on earth. Prepare, then, our souls to hail the apparition of this brilliant star; may we, like thee, be warmed by his rays so as to celebrate with enthusiasm the great things thou hast already sung of him.[35]


[1] Paulin. Epist. xxxvi 3, ad Amandum.
[2] Poema xxii, ad Jovium, v. 83-85.
[3] Poem. xxi natalit. xiii, v. 365-374.
[4] Ibid. ultimum, v. 1-3.
[5] St Matt. xix 21.
[6] Epist. xxxv ad Delphinum.
[7] Auson. Ep. xxiii ad Paulin., v. 116.
[8] Poem. xxi natal, xiii, v. 426.
[9] Epist. xxiv 7, ad Severum.
[10] Hieron. Epist. liii 10, ad Paulin.
[11] Poem. ultim., v. 158.
[12] Epist. xvi 8, ad Jovium.
[13] Hieron. Ep. lviii. 4-5, ad Paulin.
[14] Poem, xv natal. iv, v. 15-20.
[15] Poem. xii natal. i, v. 31-38.
[16] 1 Cor. i 23.
[17] Ambr. Epist. lviii 3, ad Sabinum.
[18] Paulin. Epist. xxxviii 7, ad Aprum.
[19] Epist. i 2, 6, ad Severum.
[20] St Matt. viii 22.
[21] Poema x, ad Ausonium, passim.
[22] Epist. xlv 4, ad Augustinum.
[23] Ibid. v 13, 14, ad Severum.
[24] St Matt. xi 12.
[25] Epist. xiii 15, ad Pammachium.
[26] Poema xxi natal. xiii, v. 60-99, 203-343.
[27] Prima chori Albina est, compar et Hærasia,
Jungitur hoc germana jugo, ut sit tertia princeps
Agminis, hymnisonis mater Avita choris
……………………………..
Has procerum numerosa cohors, et concolor uno
Vellere virgineæ sequitur sacra turba catervæ.
[28] Apoc. xvii 5, 6.
[29] Rom. iv 16-21.
[30] Poema xxi natal. xiii, v. 227-240.
[31] Epist. v 6, ad Severum.
[32] St John viii 32.
[33] St Luke viii 11.
[34] St Mark iv 22.
[35] Poema vi, de S Joanne Baptista.