From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
IT is through a martyr's palm-branch that we must to-day see the Paschal Mystery. Hermenegild, a young Visigoth prince, is put to death by his heretical father, because he courageously refused to receive his Easter Communion from an Arian bishop. The martyr knew that the Eucharist is the sacred symbol of Catholic unity; and that we are not allowed to approach the Holy Table in company with those who are not in the true Church. A sacrilegious consecration gives heretics the real possession of the divine Mystery, if the priestly character be in him who dares to offer sacrifice to the God whom he blasphemes; but the Catholic, who knows that he may not so much as pray with heretics, shudders at the sight of the profanation, and would rather die than share by his presence in insulting our Redeemer in that very Sacrifice and Sacrament which were instituted that we might all be made one in God.
The blood of the martyr produced its fruit: Spain threw off the chains of heresy that had enslaved her, and a Council, held at Toledo, completed the work of conversion begun by Hermenegild's sacrifice. There are very few instances recorded in history of a whole nation rising up as one man to abjure heresy; but Spain did it, for she seems to be a country on which heaven lavishes exceptional blessings. Shortly after this she was put through the ordeal of the Saracen invasion; she triumphed here again by the bravery of her children; and ever since then, her faith has been so staunch and so pure as to merit for her the proud title of The Catholic Kingdom.
St Gregory the Great, a contemporary of St Hermenegild, has transmitted to us the following account of the martyrdom. The Church has inserted it in her Lessons of today's Matins.
Ex libro Dialogorum sancti Gregorii Papæ.
Hermenegildus rex, Leovigildi regis Visigothorum filius, ab ariana hæresi ad fidem catholicam, viro reverendissimo Leandro Hispalensi Episcopo, dudum mihi in amicitiis familiariter juncto, prædicante, conversus est. Quem pater arianus, ut ad eamdem hæresim rediret, et præmiis su adere, et minis terrere conatus est. Cumque ille constantissime responderet numquam se veram fidem posse relinquere, quam semel agnovisset: iratus pater eum privavit regno, rebusque exspoliavit omnibus. Cumque nec sic virtutem mentis illius emollire valuisset; in arcta ilium custodia concludens, collum manusque illius ferro ligavit. Coepit itaque Hermenegildus rex juvenis terrenum regnum despicere, et forti desiderio coeleste quærens, in ciliciis vinculatus jacens, omnipotenti Deo, ad confortandum se, preces effundere; tantoque sublimius gloriam transeuntis mundi despicere, quanto et religatus agnoverat nihil fuisse, quod potuerit auferri.
Superveniente autem Paschalis festivitatis die, intempestæ noctis silentio, ad eum perfidus pater arianum episcopum misit, ut ex ejus manu sacrilegæ consecrationis communionem perciperet, atque per hoc ad patris gratiam redire mereretur. Sed vir Deo deditus, ariano episcopo venienti exprobravit ut debuit, ejusque a se perfidiam dignis increpationibus repulit: quia etsi exterius jacebat ligatus, apud se tamen in magno mentis culmine stabat securus. Ad se itaque reverso episcopo, arianus pater infremuit, statimque suos apparitores misit, qui constantissimum confessorem Dei, illic ubi jacebat, occiderent; quod et factum est.Nam mox ut ingressi sunt, securim cerebro ej us infigentes, vitam corporis abstulerunt, hocque in eo valuerunt, perimere, quod ipsum quoque qui peremptus est, in se consti terat despexisse. Sed pro ostendenda vera ejus gloria, superna quoque non defuere miracula. Nam cœpit in nocturno silentio psalmodiæ cantus ad corpus ejusdem regis et martyris audiri, atque ideo veraciter regis, quia et martyris.
Quidam etiam ferunt, quod illic nocturno tempore accensæ lampades apparebant. Unde et factum est, quatenus corpus illius, ut videlicet martyris, jure a cunctis fidelibus venerari debuisset. Pater vero perfidus et parricida commotus pœnitentia, hoc fecisse se doluit, nec tamen usque ad obtinendam salutem pœnituit. Nam quia vera esset Catholica fides agnovit, sed gentis suæ timore perterritus, ad hanc pervenire non meruit. Qui oborta ægritudine, ad extrema perductus est, etLeandro Episcopo, quem prius vehementer afflixerat, Reccaredum regem filium suum, quem in sua haeresi relinquebat, commendare curavit, ut in ipso quoque talia faceret, qualia et in fratre suis exhortationibus fecisset. Qua commendatione expleta, defunctus est. Post cujus mortem, Reccaredus rex non patrem perfidum, sed fratrem martyrem sequens, ab arianæ hæreseos pravitate conversus est, totamque Visigothorum gentem ita ad veram perduxit fidem, ut nullum in suo regno militare permitteret, qui regni Dei hostis existere per hæreticam pravitatem non timeret. Nec mirum quod veræ fidei prsedicator factus est, qui frater est martyris: cujus hunc quoque merita adjuvant, ut ad omnipotentis Dei gremium tam multos reducat.
From the book of the Dialogues of Saint Gregory, Pope.
King Hermenegild, son of Leovigild, king of the Visigoths, was converted from the Arian heresy to the Catholic faith by the preaching of the venerable Leander, bishop of Seville, one of my oldest and dearest friends. His father, who continued in the Arian heresy, did his utmost, both by promises and threats, to induce him to apostatize. But Hermenegild returned him ever the same answer, that he never could abandon the true faith, after having once known it. The father, in a fit of displeasure, deprived him not only of his right to the throne, but of everything he possessed. And when even this failed to break the energy of his soul, he had him put into close confinement with chains on his neck and hands. Hereupon the youthful king Hermenegild began to despise the earthly, and ardently to long for the heavenly, kingdom. Thus fettered, and wearing a hairshirt, he besought the omnipotent God to support him. As to the glory of this fleeting world, he nobly looked on it with disdain, the more so as his captivity taught him the nothingness of that which could thus be taken from him.
It was the Feast of Easter. At an early hour of the night, when all was still, his wicked father sent an Arian bishop to him, with this message, that if he would receive Communion from his hands (the Communion of a sacrilegious consecration!) he should be restored to favour. True to his Creator, the man of God gave a merited reproof to the Arian bishop, and, with holy indignation, rejected his sinful offer; for though his body lay prostrate in chains, his soul stood on ground beyond the reach of tyranny. The bishop therefore returned whence he had come. The Arian father raged, and straightway sent his lictors, bidding them repair to the prison of the unflinching confessor of the Lord, and murder him on the spot. They obeyed; they entered the prison; they cleft his skull with a sword; they took away the life of the body, and slew what he, the slain one, had sworn to count as vile. Miracles soon followed, whereby heaven testified to the true glory of Hermenegild; for during the night there was heard sweet music nigh to the body of the king and martyr—king indeed, because he was a martyr.
It is said that lights were seen at the same time burning in the prison. The faithful were led by these signs to revere the body as being that of a martyr. As to the wicked father, he repented having imbrued his hands in his son’s blood; but his repentance was not unto salvation, inasmuch as, whilst acknowledging the Catholic faith to be the true one, he had not the courage to embrace it, for he feared the displeasure of his subjects. When in his last sickness, and at the point of death, he commended his son Reccared, a heretic, to the care of Leander, the.bishop, whom he had hitherto persecuted, but whom he now asked to do for this son what he had, by his exhortations, done for Hermenegild. Having made this request, he died, and was succeeded on the throne by Reccared, who, taking not his wicked father but his martyred brother as his model, abandoned the impious Arian heresy, and led the whole Visigothic nation to the true faith. He would not allow any man to serve in his armies who dared to continue the enemy of the God of hosts by heresy. Neither is it to be wondered at, that being the brother of a martyr, he should have become a propagator of the true faith, for it was by Hermenegild's merits that he has succeeded in reconciling so many thousands to the great God of heaven.
Pope Urban VIII composed the two following hymns for the feast of the holy martyr: we unite them under one conclusion.
Regali solio fortis Iberiæ
Hermenegilde jubar, gloria Martyrum,
Christi quos amor almis
Cœli cœtibus inserit.
Ut perstas patiens, pollicitum
Deo Servans obsequium! quo potius tibi
Nil proponis, et arces
Cautus noxia, quæ placent.
Ut motus cohibes, pabula qui parant
Surgentis vitii, non dubios agens
Per vestigia gressus
Quo veri via dirigit!
Nullis te genitor blanditiis trahit,
Non vitæ caperis divitis otio,
Diris non acies te gladii minis,
Nec terret perimens carnificis furor:
Nam mansura caducis
Præfers gaudia cœlitum.
Nunc nos e superum protege sedibus,
Clemens, atque preces, dum canimus tua
Quæsitam nece palmam,
Pronis auribus excipe.
Sit rerum Domino jugis honor, Patri,
Et natum celebrent ora precantium,
Flamen laudibus efferant.
The royal throne of heroic Iberia counts thee,
Hermenegild, as one of its glories:
so, too, do the martyrs,
whose love of Christ has numbered them among the blessed of heaven.
How courageously didst thou keep thy promised allegiance to God!
He was dear to thee above all things else;
and as to the dangerous pleasures of this world,
thou wisely didst reject them.
Thou didst restrain the passions
which excite and foster vice,
and march onwards, with unfaltering step,
whither the path of truth leads.
Thy father's promises could not seduce thee.
The luxuries of a life of ease and wealth,
the glitter of diamonds, the prospect of a throne
—they could not allure thee.
Thou wast not affrighted by the threat of a cruel death,
nor by the executioner's merciless rage;
for the everlasting joys of heaven
were dearer to thee than those of time.
Do thou now kindly protect us
from thy heavenly throne,
and graciously receive the prayers we present to thee
whilst celebrating the palm made thine by martyrdom.
To the Father, the Lord of all things, be eternal honour!
Let the faithful assembled here in prayer, glorify the Son;
let them sing forth endless praise
to the Holy Ghost.
We offer thee, O brave witness to the truth of our holy faith! our admiration and gratitude. Thy courageous death was proof of the love thou hadst for Christ; and thy contempt of earthly honours teaches us to despise them. Though thou wert heir to a throne, a prison was thy abode here below. It was thence that thou didst ascend to heaven, wearing on thy brow the laurels of martyrdom, a crown far brighter than that which was offered thee on condition of thy apostatizing from the faith. Pray now for us: the Church asks it of thee, by inserting thy name in the Calendar of her Saints. The Pasch was the day of thy triumph; obtain for us that this may be a true Pasch to us, a real resurrection. which may lead us to the heaven above, where we may enjoy with thee the sight of our Risen Jesus. Intercede for us, that we may be firm in the faith, obedient to the teachings of holy Church, and enemies of every error and innovation. Protect Spain, thy fatherland, which owes to thy martyrdom long centuries of loyalty to the true faith. Pray for her, that she may ever continue to merit her glorious title of Catholic Kingdom.