Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence (AD 258) as described by Pope Leo (ca. AD 450)

St. Lawrence Giving the Wealth to the Poor, by Jacopo Palma il Giovane, 1581.
August 10 is the feast of Saint Lawrence (Laurentius), a Deacon of the Roman Church, who was executed for the crime of professing Christ during the persecution of the emperor Valerian in AD 258. Lawrence went on to become one of the most celebrated martyrs of the early Church, and is commemorated by name in the traditional Canon of the Roman Catholic Mass.

Here is an early description of his martyrdom taken from a homily given by Pope Saint Leo the Great on the occasion of his feast day in the mid-5th century AD:
How gloriously strong in this most excellent manner of doctrine the blessed martyr Laurentius is, by whose sufferings today is marked, even his persecutors were able to feel, when they found that his wondrous courage, born principally of love for Christ, not only did not yield itself, but also strengthened others by the example of his endurance. 
For when the fury of the gentile potentates was raging against Christ's most chosen members, and attacked those especially who were of priestly rank, the wicked persecutor's wrath was vented on Laurentius the deacon, who was pre-eminent not only in the performance of the sacred rites, but also in the management of the church's property, promising himself double spoil from one man's capture: for if he forced him to surrender the sacred treasures, he would also drive him out of the pale of true religion. And so this man, so greedy of money and such a foe to the truth, arms himself with double weapon: with avarice to plunder the gold; with impiety to carry off Christ. He demands of the guileless guardian of the sanctuary that the church wealth on which his greedy mind was set should be brought to him. But the holy deacon showed him where he had them stored, by pointing to the many troops of poor saints, in the feeding and clothing of whom he had a store of riches which he could not lose, and which were the more entirely safe that the money had been spent on so holy a cause.
The baffled plunderer, therefore, frets, and blazing out into hatred of a religion, which had put riches to such a use, determines to pillage a still greater treasure by carrying off that sacred deposit, wherewith he was enriched, as he could find no solid hoard of money in his possession. He orders Laurentius to renounce Christ, and prepares to ply the deacon's stout courage with frightful tortures: and, when the first elicit nothing, fiercer follow. His limbs, torn and mangled by many cutting blows, are commanded to be broiled upon the fire in an iron framework, which was of itself already hot enough to burn him, and on which his limbs were turned from time to time, to make the torment fiercer, and the death more lingering.
You gain nothing, you prevail nothing, O savage cruelty. His mortal frame is released from your devices, and, when Laurentius departs to heaven, you are vanquished. The flame of Christ's love could not be overcome by your flames, and the fire which burnt outside was less keen than that which blazed within. [Taken from: Homilies of Pope Saint Leo the Great, Homily 85]
Saint Lawrence goes to his death. 5th century mosaic,
Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna, Italy.

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