May XII SS. Nereus and Achilleus, Martyrs
SS. Nereus and Achilleus, Martyrs
They were eunuchs or chamberlains belonging to St. Flavia Domitilla, zealous Christians, and with her were banished by Domitian into a little isle on the coast of Terracina, called Pontia. Their acts say, that they were afterwards beheaded at Terracina, under Trajan. Their festival was kept at Rome with great solemnity, in the sixth age, when St. Gregory the Great spoke on it his twenty-eighth homily, in which he says: “These saints, before whose tomb we are assembled, despised the world and trampled it under their feet, where peace, plenty, riches, and health gave it charms.” Their old church in Rome lay in ruins, when Baronius, to whom it gave the title of Cardinal, rebuilt it with splendor, and restored to it their relics, which had been removed to the chapel of St. Adrian.
St. Flavia Domitilla, V. M.
She was niece to the consul and martyr. St. Flavius Clemens, being the daughter of his sister, as Eusebius testifies;1 consequently she was little niece of the emperor Domitian, who, having put to death her illustrious uncle, banished her for her faith into Pontia. There she lived with her holy eunuchs, Nereus and Achilleus, in exercises of devotion, they all dwelling in separate cells, which remained standing three hundred years after. St. Jerom tells us, that St. Paula, going from Rome to Jerusalem, took this island in her way, visited them with respect and devotion, and by the sight of them was animated with fervor. That father calls her banishment a long martyrdom. Nerva and Trajan were perhaps unwilling to restore the relations of Domitian with the other exiles whom they recalled. The acts of SS. Nereus and Achilleus say that she returned to Terracina and was there burnt under Trajan, because she refused to sacrifice to idols. Her relics are kept together with those of SS. Nereus and Achilleus; who, though her servants here on earth, enjoy an equal honor and condition with her in glory.*
This royal virgin found true happiness and joy in suffering for virtue, while worldly pomp and honors are only masks which often cover the basest slavery, and much inward bitterness. Sinners who seem the most fortunate in the eyes of the world, feel in their own breasts frequent returns of fear, anxiety, and remorse. They are only enemies to solitude and retirement, and to all serious and calm reflection, because they cannot bear to look into themselves, and tremble at the very sight of their own frightful wounds. To turn their eyes from themselves, they study to drown their faculties in a hurry of dissipation, business, or diversion. Nay, though nauseated and tired with a dull and tasteless repetition of follies, they choose to repeat them still, for fear of being left alone, at liberty to think of themselves. But what becomes of them when sickness, disasters, or a wakeful hour forces them to take a view of their own miserable state, and the dangers which hang over them? Their gaudy show of happiness is merely exterior, and only imposes upon others: but their pangs and agonies are interior: these they themselves feel. The servant of God, who in his sweet love enjoys an inward peace and comfort which the whole world cannot rob him of, carries his paradise within his own breast, whatever storms hover about him.
St. Pancras, M.
He is said to have suffered at Rome in the fourteenth year of his age. Having been beheaded for the faith, which he had gloriously confessed under Dioclesian in the year 304, he was interred in the cemetery of Calepodius, which afterwards took his name. His old church in that place was repaired in the fifth century by pope Symmachus, and in the seventh by pope Honorius I. St. Gregory the Great speaks of his relics. St. Gregory of Tours1 calls him the Avenger of Perjuries, and says that God by a perpetual miracle visibly punished false oaths made before his relics. Pope Vitalian sent a portion of them to king Oswi in 656.2 Italy, England France, Spain, &c., abound with churches which bear his name.3 See D. Jenichen, Diss. de S. Pancratio, urbis et ecclesiæ primariæ Giessensis patrono titulari, in 4to. anno 1758, at Giessen, a university in Upper Hesse, belonging to the landgrave of Hesse Darmstadt.
St. Epiphanius, Archbishop of Salamis,
From his works, Socrates, Sozomen, and St. Jerom. See Tillemont. t. 9. Ceiliier, t. 8, and La Vie de S Epiphane, avec l’Analyse des Ouvrages de ce Saint, et son Apologie, in 4to. Paris, 1738, by M. Gervaise formerly abbot of La Trappe.
A. D. 403.
St. Epiphanius was born about the year 310, in the territory of Eleuthelopolis, in Palestine. To qualify himself for the study of the holy scriptures, he learned in his youth the Hebrew, the Egyptian, the Syriac, the Greek, and the Latin languages. His frequent conversation with St. Hilarion and other holy anchorets, whom he often visited to receive their instructions, gave him a strong inclination to a monastic life, which he embraced very young. If he made his first essay in Palestine, as M. Gervaise is persuaded upon the authority of the saint’s Greek life, attributed by many to Metaphrastes, at least it is certain he went soon into Egypt to perfect himself in the exercises of that state, in the deserts of that country. He returned into Palestine about the year 333, and built a monastery near the place of his birth. His labors in the exercise of virtue seemed to some to surpass his strength; but his apology always was: “God gives not the kingdom of heaven but on the condition that we labor; and all we can do bears no proportion to such a crown.” To his corporal austerities he added an indefatigable application to prayer and study.*
Most books there in vogue passed through his hands; and he improved himself very much in learning by his travels into many parts. The great St. Hilarion had spent twenty-two years in the desert when God made him known to the world by the lustre of his virtues and an extraordinary gift of miracles, about the year 328. St. Epiphanius, though the skilful director of many others, regarded him as his master in a spiritual life, and enjoyed the happiness of his direction and intimate acquaintance from the year 333 to 356, in which Tillemont, who seems to have settled most correctly the chronology of St. Hilarion’s life, places the departure of that great saint out of Palestine. St. Jerom gives us to understand in his life, that never was union of two friends more intimate or more constant, which even this separation was not able to interrupt. The church of Salamis seems to have been determined by St. Hilarion to demand Epiphanius for their bishop, and this latter consecrated his pen after the death of St. Hilarion, to make known his virtue to the world. In the dreadful persecution which the Arians raised against the Catholics in the reign of Constantius, St. Epiphanius often left his cell to comfort and encourage the latter; and his zeal obliged him to separate himself from the communion of his diocesan Eutychius, bishop of Eleutheropolis, who, against his own conscience, out of human political motives, entered into a confederation with Acacius and other heretics against the truth.1 In reading the works of Origen, he was shocked at many errors which he discovered in them, and began early in his life to precaution the faithful against the same.2
St. Epiphanius in his monastery was the oracle of Palestine and the neighboring countries; and no one ever went from him who had not received great spiritual comfort by his holy advice. The reputation of his virtue made him known to distant countries; and about the year 367, he was chosen bishop of Salamis, then called Constantia, in Cyprus. But he still wore the monastic habit, and continued to govern his monastery in Palestine, which he visited from time to time. He sometimes relaxed his austerities in favor of hospitality, preferring charity to abstinence. No one surpassed him in tenderness and charity to the poor. Many pious persons made him the dispenser of their large alms. St. Olympias, to have a share in his benediction, made him great presents in money and lands for that purpose. The veneration which all men had for his sanctity, exempted him from the persecution of the Arian emperor Valens in 371; but he was almost the only Catholic bishop in that part of the empire who was entirely spared on that occasion. In 376, he undertook a journey to Antioch to endeavor the conversion of Vitalis the Apollinarist bishop; and in 382, he accompanied St. Paulinus from that city to Rome, where they lodged at the house of St. Paula; our saint in return entertained her afterwards ten days in Cyprus, in 385. The saint fell into some mistakes on certain occasions, which proceeded from zeal and simplicity, as Socrates observes. The very name of an error in faith, or the shadow of danger of evil, affrighted him. At Jerusalem, in 394, he preached against Origenism in presence of the patriarch John, whom he suspected to lean towards that heresy. At Bethlehem he persuaded Saint Jerom to separate himself from his communion, unless he publicly purged himself. He also ordained, by compulsion, Paulinian, the brother of St. Jerom, priest; but, upon the complaint of John, carried him into Cyprus to serve his church at Salamis. At Constantinople he impeached the tall brothers for Origenism, having been prepossessed against them by the clamors of Theophilus. He even blamed Saint Chrysostom for affording them his protection; but a mild expostulation of that saint opened his eyes, and he hastened back to Salamis, but died on the voyage thither in 403 having been bishop thirty-six years. His disciples built a church in his honor in Cyprus, where they placed his and many other pious pictures, (Conc., l. 7, p. 447.) Sozomen testifies that God honored his tomb with miracles, (b. 7, ch. 27.) St. Austin, St Ephrem, St. John Damascen, Photius, and others, called him a Catholic doctor, an admirable man, and one filled with the spirit of God.*
St. Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople
He was the son of a famous senator named Justinian. From his youth he shone as a bright light among the clergy, and was chosen bishop of Cyzicus, and in 715, patriarch of Constantinople. In the most degenerate times he kept virtue in countenance and vice in awe, and strenuously defended the faith with equal zeal, learning, and prudence, first against the Monothelites, and afterwards against the Iconoclasts. When Leo the Isaurian commanded by an edict all holy images to be abolished, in 725, the patriarch refused to take them out of the churches; and boldly maintained, even before the emperor himself, the honor which the church taught to be due to them; in which he was seconded by St. John Damascen, who then lived in the court of the caliph of the Saracens. St. Germanus put the emperor in mind of what he had promised at his coronation, and how he took God to witness that he would not alter any of the traditions of the church. The emperor, after he found that he could not gain the patriarch by flattering words, endeavored to provoke him to let fall some injurious expression, that he might be accused as a seditious person. But the saint was too well instructed in the school of Christ to forget the rules of meekness and patience. The emperor grew every day more outrageous against him, accusing the emperors his predecessors, and all the bishops and Christians, of idolatry; for he was too ignorant to distinguish between a relative and an absolute worship. After much ill usage, the patriarch was unjustly compelled by the heretics, in 730, to leave his church, when he had governed it fourteen years five months. He employed the leisure which his banishment procured him at Platanium, his paternal house, in weeping for the evils of the church, and in preparing himself, by the most fervent exercises of penance and devotion, for eternity, which he happily entered on the 12th of May, 733. The elegance and politeness of his writings, especially of his apology for St. Gregory of Nyssa against the Origenists,† are admired by Photius.1 See Theophanes and St. Nicephorus. The saints in all ages have found trials. Heaven is not to be obtained but upon this condition. The expectation of its glory made them embrace their crosses with joy. With St. Chrysostom2 they often repealed: “If I were to die a thousand times a day, nay, for some time to suffer hell itself, that I may behold Christ in his glory, all would be too little.”
St. Rictrudes, Abbess
This mother of saints was a lady of the first quality in France, born in Gascony in 614, and married to Adalbald, one of the principal lords of the court of king Clovis. She had by him four children, who, copying after her example, and being happily educated in her maxims of perfect piety, deserved all to be honored among the saints: namely, St. Mauront, abbot of Breüil, St. Clotsenda, abbess of Marchiennes, St. Eusebia, or Isoye, abbess of Hamay, and St. Adalsenda, a nun at Hamay. So great a benediction does the sanctity of parents draw upon a whole family. St. Amand being banished into the southern parts of France, Rictrudes finding him to be truly a man of God, committed herself entirely to his direction, to walk with fervor in the paths of evangelical perfection. The death of her husband, who was assassinated in his return from his estates in Flanders, not only set her at liberty, but was a powerful means to wean her heart perfectly from the world. Thus the most grievous temporal affliction proved her greatest spiritual blessing. She was yet young, and exceeding rich; and king Clovis II. sought, even by threats, to oblige her to marry one of his favorite courtiers. However, she maintained her ground, and at length was permitted to receive the religious veil from the hands of St. Amand. She had before this founded an abbey of monks on a marshy ground in her estate of Marchiennes, under the direction of St. Amand. Being now a widow, she built a separate monastery for nuns in the same place, which she governed herself forty years. She was clad with rough hair-cloth, and fasted, watched, and prayed almost without intermission. She sighed continually after the goods of the heavenly Jerusalem; for, as St. Bernard says:1 “Thou desirest not sufficiently the joys to come if thou dost not daily ask them with tears. Thou knowest them not, if thy soul doth not refuse all comfort till they come.” When the film with which the love of the world covers the eye of the soul is removed, by a perfect disengagement of the heart from its toys, then she sees and feels the weight of her distance from her God. And till she can be drowned in the ocean of his love, she finds no other comfort in her banishment but in the contemplation of his goodness, and in sighs excited by his love. Rictrudes, that she might more freely pursue these exercises, which were the delight of her heart, resigned her superiority some time before her happy death, which happened on the 12th of May, 688, she being seventy-four years old. This nunnery was abolished, and its revenues given to the monks in the same place, in 1028. The body of St. Rictrudes is honorably entombed in the church of that great Benedictin abbey. Her name is inserted in many monastic and local calendars, and several churches and altars have been formerly erected in Flanders under her invocation, mentioned by Papebroke. In the church of St. Amatus at Douay, in the chapel of St. Mauront, among the statues of the saints of his family the third is of St. Rictrudes. Her life was compiled by Hucbald, a learned monk of St. Amand’s, in 907. Surius altered the style; but this is restored to its original integrity by Mabillon, (Act. Bened. t. 2, p. 938,) and Papebroke the Bollandist, who has enhanced the value of this work by judicious remarks, (t. 3, Maij, p. 80,) and has added several long histories of her miracles compiled by several monks of St. Marchiennes and St. Amand’s in different ages.
1 B. 3, c. 18.
* The elder Flavia Domitilla was niece to the emperor Domitian, and daughter of his sister Domitilla This sister he had given in marriage to his cousin-german St. Flavius Clemens, son to a brother of Vespasian. Alter his martyrdom, she was impeached for her faith; and, because she refused to marry another husband, banished to the isle Pandataria, now St. Mary’s, near Puzzuolo. She probably returned to Rome, or at least to the continent, after the death of Domitian. She had by St. Clemens two sons, Vespasian and Domitian, whom that emperor destined to be his successors, and appointed the celebrated rhetorician Quintillian to be their preceptor. This virtuous lady was aunt to St. Domitilla, V. M. See Tillemont Hist. Emp.
1 L. l. de Glor. Mart., c. 39.
2 Bede, Hist., b. 3, c. 29.
3 Henschenius, t. 3, Maij, p. 18.
* He wrote his Anchorate to be as it were an anchor or stay to fix unsettled minds in the true faith, that they might not be tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, which is always the case of heresy. In this work he explains, and proves in short the principal articles of the Catholic faith. But his great work appeared in 374, under the title of Panarium; or, Box of Antidotes against all heresies. He gives the history of twenty heresies before Christ, and of fourscore since the promulgation of the Gospel. If in his account of Arianism he sometimes falls into historical mistakes, we must remember how difficult. If often is to discover the truth in points wherein so many factions find it their interest to adulterate it. These heresies he confutes both by the scriptures and tradition. “Tradition,” says he, “is also necessary. All things cannot be learned from the scriptures, therefore the apostles left some things in writing, others by tradition, which Paul affirms, saying; As I have delivered to you, &c.” (Hær. 60, c. 6, p. 511.) By the latter, he justifies the practice, and proves the obligation of praying for the dead. (Hær. 76, c. 7, 8, p. 911.) He admires how Aërius could presume to abolish the fasts of Wednesdays and Fridays, “which are observed by the whole earth, and that by apostolical authority.” (lb. Hær. 76.) “The style of this work, says Godeau, (Eioges des Evèques illustres, c. 37, p. 228,) is not much polished; but the doctrine is pure and excellent. They are diamonds, which without being cut, sparkle by their natural beauty. We are much indebted to the author for the distinct knowledge he has given us of the ancient heresies, and the solid confutation he has left us of them. These, it is true, are no longer known to us but by their names: but others take their place, and are a continual trial: and the spirit of heresy is always like itself, full of obstinacy, self-conceit, and pride.” St. Epiphanius’s book on Weights and Measures explains the measures and ancient customs of the Jews; that on Precious Stones is an inquiry concerning the rational or square ornament worn by the Jewish high-priest, and the qualities of the twelve precious stones set in it. In his letter to John of Jerusalem, (inter op. S. Hieron.,) he relates how he saw at Anablatha, In the diocese of Jerusalem, a curtain over the church door, on which was painted an image, whether of Christ or of some saint he had forgot when he wrote this: but he tore the curtain or hanging, and gave others in its place. It is certain, from the famous statue of the woman cured by our Saviour of the bloody flux which stood at Paneas in that very country, mentioned by Ensebius as honored with miracles, and from the writings of St. Prudentius, St. Paulinus, St. Ephrem. &c., that the use of holy images was common in the church at that very time, as Le Clerc in their lives acknowledges. But St. Epiphanius here discovered or at least apprehended some superstitious practice or danger of it among converts from idolatry; or, of scandal to Jewish proselytes: for, upon this last consideration, it might sometimes seem prudent to forbear a practice of discipline in certain places, as Salmeron observes in 1 Joan., c. 5, disp. 32.
1 S. Epiph Hær. 73, c. 23, 27.
2 S. Jerom, I. 2, in Rufin., c. 6, et ep. 60; S. Epiph. Hær. 64
* His works are published by the learned Petavius, in two vols. folio: but the original Greek must be consulted by those who desire to avoid all mistakes, as the judicious prelate Albaspinærus, or Aubespine has taken much pains to convince the world with regard to that translation. The commentary of St. Epiphanius on the book of Canticles was lately discovered among the manuscripts of the Vatican library, by Monsignor Foggini, prefect of that library, who has favored us with an accurate edition of the same at Rome, in 1750, with a learned preface.
† The loss of this work is extremely to be regretted.
1 Cod. 233. See Fleury, I. 42, n. 55.
2 St. Chrys. ad Theodor. laps. l. 1, p. 17.
1 Serm. 2, in cap. Jejun. n. 4
Butler, Alban, The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints (New York 1903) II, 311-316.