Wednesday, November 28, 2018

"I know that your gods are demons" ~ The Martyrdom of Saint Saturninus of Toulouse

Saint Saturninus is dragged to his death by a bull. A 19th century engraving
from Shea's Pictorial Lives of the Saints.
If you’ve never heard of Saint Saturninus of Toulouse, you may be forgiven. Though obscure today, he was among the most illustrious early martyrs of the Church in France. His feast day is November 29. Saturninus is certainly worth knowing about, however, because the account of his death represents one of the most ancient extant Christian works to originate from the Roman province of Gaul.

Saturninus was bishop of Tolosa — Toulouse in modern-day France. He was martyred either during the the persecution of Christians initiated by Decius (AD 250) or Valerian (AD 258). Saturninus is mentioned by the 6th century historian Gregory of Tours in his History of the Franks as one of the seven bishops sent out by Pope Fabian to preach to the Gauls:
“These bishops were sent: bishop Catianus to Tours; bishop Trophimus to Arles; bishop Paul to Narbonne; bishop Saturninus to Toulouse; bishop Dionisius to Paris; bishop Stremonius to Clermont, bishop Martial to Limoges.” [Taken from A History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours
In this same passage, Gregory mentions and indeed quotes from the martyrdom account of Saint Saturninus, thus providing a confirmation of the account's antiquity.

Here are some excerpts from the original account as translated into English by Andrew Eastbourne
During the consulship of Decius and Gratus, as the faithful report tells, the city of Toulouse had received Saturninus as its first and supreme priest of Christ. By his faith and virtue, the oracles of those demons who were worshipped in this same city began to cease. Their fabrications were laid bare, their machinations uncovered, all their power among the pagans, all their deceit, began to decrease as the faith of the Christians increased. Since the aforementioned bishop in his going to and from the church which was quite small at that time, often went past the Capitol, which was between his house and the house of God, the deceitful crowd of demons was not able to stand the holy man’s presence, and the statues (mute as they were), overshadowed by no apparitions, remained in silence [as their only response] to the impious worship and the customary prayers of those who came to consult them.
All the priests of impious superstition, disturbed by the novelty of such a great thing, began to ask themselves whence this muteness (not usual for such a long time) had suddenly come upon their gods, and who had shut their ever-babbling mouths so that they, not moved by the prayers of those who called upon them nor charmed by the shed blood of bulls and so many sacrifices, refused to give any response to those who consulted them—[were they] angry or absent? They heard from a certain enemy of our religion that some sect hostile to pagan superstition had arisen which was called Christian, and that it was striving to destroy their gods. Also, the bishop of this faith was Saturninus, who passed by the Capitol frequently. It was at the sight of this man that the mouths of their gods were terrified and fell silent. They could not easily be re-opened unless an accelerated death took that bishop away…. 
A group of pagans assembled near the Capitol and puzzled over what to do next. They had prepared a bull for sacrifice in order to propitiate their gods when Saturninus, happened to walk by. He was recognized by someone in the crowd who shouted:
“Look! the adversary of our worship himself, the standard-bearer of the new religion, who preaches the destruction of temples, who despises our gods by calling them demons, whose constant presence, finally, prevents us from obtaining oracles! And so, since the end he deserves has presented the very man to us at the opportune time, let us take vengeance for the injury to ourselves and to our gods at the same time! And now, through our compulsion, may he either be pleasing to them by sacrificing, or make them joyful by dying!”
With the urging of such an impious voice, the whole crowd of lunatics surrounded the holy man and, once a priest and two deacons who had accompanied him had fallen away in flight, he was brought alone to the Capitol. As they were trying to force him to sacrifice to the demons, he bore witness in a clear voice:
“I know only one God, the true God. I will offer to Him the sacrifice of praise. I know that your gods are demons, and you honor them (in vain) not so much by the sacrifice of cattle as by the deaths of your own souls. Now, how is it that you want me to fear those by whom, as I hear, you say I am feared?”
At these words of the holy bishop, the whole boisterous, impious multitude was inflamed and used that bull which had been prepared as a sacrificial victim in the service of their savagery, tying a rope around its flanks and leaving it loose in back. They bound the holy man’s feet with the end of the rope that was hanging down behind the bull and drove the bull with rather sharp blows to rush down from the upper part of the Capitol onto the plain. Without delay, during the first part of the descent of that slope, his head having been dashed [against the rocks], his brain having been scattered, and his body having been mangled in every part, his soul, worthy of God, was received by Christ so that after the victory He [i.e., Christ] might crown with His own laurels [the soul] that pagan fury had wrenched out with torments while he was fighting faithfully for Christ’s name. 
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The remainder of the account details how Saturninus’s body was buried and guarded after his martyrdom. The pen of a later editor seems to have added additional details about how the saint’s relics were disinterred and transferred to a basilica by the bishops Silvius and Exuperius once the Christian era had commenced.

The complete account of the martyrdom and subsequent history of the relics of Saint Saturninus may be found at the incredibly useful website, as well as in I Am A Christian: Authentic Accounts of Christian Martyrdom and Persecution from the Ancient Sources. This book contains numerous similar accounts of martyrs from the earliest centuries of the Christian era and is well worth reading if this sort of thing interests you.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Useless USCCB

I wrote the following message on Facebook a few months ago, but given the miserable failure that the USCCB meeting in Baltimore is proving to be, it seems even more appropriate now.
To the USCCB ~
You fellows had your chance to clean things out in 2002. The fact that one of the leaders of this effort back then, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, has now been revealed as an abuser himself and a harasser of seminarians has demonstrated that the whole process was a sham. 
As former governor Frank Keating said recently: "Judas Iscariot is walking the earth, and is among the council of bishops." For those who don't remember, Gov. Keating was the leader of the ill-fated National Review Board charged with investigating the scandal in 2002. He quit when he realized that you weren't serious. Hear more from Gov. Keating here: 
Now, the trust is gone. Many of you need to resign, and soon, for the good of the Church.    
See this website for more information about bishops who should have done something about Cardinal McCarrick but failed:
Needless to say, there have been no resignations from this group. Only stonewalling, excuse-making, and pitiful attempts to apologize. There need to be consequences, however.

Whatever moral authority our Catholic bishops once had, it's quickly slipping away and this is a disaster for the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I pray that God will cleanse His Church and send us saintly men to be our shepherds. The current group seems to be capable of nothing but sowing confusion, frustration and discord.

Thank God for Archbishop Vigan├▓ who wrote the following brief letter to the USCCB. He is perhaps the only man in this whole sordid affair who actually speaks like a believing Catholic:
I am writing to remind you of the sacred mandate you were given on the day of your episcopal ordination: to lead the flock to Christ. Meditate on Proverbs 9:10: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom! 
Do not behave like frightened sheep, but as courageous shepherds. Do not be afraid of standing up and doing the right thing for the victims, for the faithful and for your own salvation. The Lord will render to every one of us according to our actions and omissions.
I am fasting and praying for you,

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Incorrupt Body of Justinian the Great

19th century print showing soldiers of the 4th Crusade
discovering the incorrupt body of Justinian I in AD 1204.
On November 14, AD 565, the Roman Emperor Justinian passed to his eternal reward after a long and extraordinarily eventful reign of 38 years. But this post is not about Justinian's legendary works or even the circumstances surrounding his death. It is, instead, about an event that happened a full 639 years after his death.

On the fateful day of April 13, AD 1204, the knights of the Fourth Crusade, driven mad by thoughts of vengeance and visions of tremendous wealth, successfully breached the massive sea-walls of Constantinople. Once the city had fallen and most resistance had been quelled, the disgraced crusaders began a systematic search for loot of all kinds. In this effort, they did not spare even the wondrous churches of Constantinople, and one of their targets was the Church of the Holy Apostles which had served as an imperial tomb for centuries. The Byzantine historian, Nicetas Choniates, an eye-witness to the siege writing only a few years after the event, picks up the tale from here:
Exhibiting from the very outset, as they say, their innate love of gold, the plunderers of the queen city conceived a novel way to enrich themselves while escaping everyone’s notice. They broke open the sepulchers of the emperors which were located within the Heroon erected next to the great temple of the Disciples of Christ [Holy Apostles] and plundered them all in the night, taking with utter lawlessness whatever gold ornaments, or round pearls, or radiant, precious, and incorruptible gems that were still preserved within.
Here's where things get really interesting, however. When the disgraced crusaders violated the tomb of the emperor Justinian the Great, they received a severe but momentary shock. Choniates continues:
Finding the corpse of Emperor Justinian had not decomposed through the long centuries, they looked upon the spectacle as a miracle, but this in no way prevented them from keeping their hands off the tomb’s valuables. In other words, the Western nations spared neither the living nor the dead, but beginning with God and his servants, they displayed complete indifference and irreverence to all. [Taken from Magoulias: O City of Byzantium: Annals of Niketas Choniat─ôs
Most Catholics are familiar with incorruptibility as the remains of some of the best known saints -- from Saint Cecilia in antiquity, to Saint Bernadette in the 19th century, to Saint Pio of Pietrelcina in modern times, have displayed the phenomenon. The origins of incorruptibility are mysterious and it is normally considered a sign of extraordinary sanctity, though clearly some of the saints' bodies considered among the incorrupt have been embalmed, coated with wax, or otherwise preserved through some very non-spiritual means.

While Orthodox Christians have considered Justinian a saint for centuries, he is not considered such by Catholics. It is a shame that no Western ecclesiastic or historian saw fit to record the remarkable occurrence of his exhumation. Equally sad is that no remnant of the emperor's relics or the accouterments seem to have survived the desecration of his tomb.

It is interesting to note, however, that within a year of his death in AD 565, Justinian seems to have adopted a heretical position known as Aphthartodocetism. A semi-Monophysite heresy, Aphthartodocetism held that the body of Christ was incorruptible, impassible and that the incarnation was real only in appearance. Given the central tenet of this heresy, it is interesting to speculate on the state of Justinian's corpse when discovered by the fallen crusaders and the message, if any, worldly or divine, it was meant to send.

If there was a message there, however, the disgraced crusaders were too busy worshiping Mammon to catch it.