St. Stephen, King of Hungary
St. Stephen, who is justly called the Apostle of the Hungarians, on account of his unwearied zeal in disseminating the true faith, was born in Hungary. His father, Geisa, was a renowned leader and general of the wild Huns and ruled over them with the title of Duke. Severely as he treated his heathen subjects, he was mild to the Christians who came into his dominions, and when God had bestowed upon him the grace of recognizing the truth of the Christian religion, he determined to establish it in his land. One day, when, occupied with this thought, he laid himself down, an angel appeared to him in his sleep, who announced to him that he would become father to a son, who was chosen by God to execute all that he was just now revolving in his mind. The angel further said, that on the following day, a messenger of God would come to him, whom he should receive, and to whose words he should listen with due reverence. A similar vision was shown, at the same time, to the wife of Geisa. St. Stephen, the protomartyr, appeared to her, and, among other things, told her to give his name to the child to whom she was soon to give birth. St. Adalbert, bishop of Prague, arrived on the following day. He instructed the duke and duchess in the truth and baptized them. The prince who was soon afterwards born, was joyfully received into the Church of the Lord by the holy bishop, who gave him, in Baptism, the name of Stephen. Geisa led an edifying life until he died.
When Stephen had arrived at manhood, and had taken the reins of government, he resolved most earnestly, to exterminate all idolatry among his people, and everywhere to plant the emblem of the Christians, the Cross. To be more secure in his pious undertaking, he formed an alliance with the neighboring princes in order to prevent them from assisting those of his subjects who might oppose his design. Notwithstanding this, some of the Hungarian nobility dared to take up arms in defense of idolatry, and to make war against their legitimate Lord. St. Stephen, full of trust in the Almighty, met the rebels with his small force and defeated them so completely, that in future none ever dared refuse him obedience. The great and rich booty of which St. Stephen became possessed on this occasion, he appropriated to the building of a Monastery in honor of St. Martin, a native of Hungary. The Saint then invited from different Catholic lands, priests and religious men to Hungary to instruct the people.
Those who were converted were favored with many privileges and immunities by the devout prince, while the refractory were dealt with in such a manner, that they were prevented from opposing others in embracing Christianity. In various cities and villages he erected Churches and Chapels, endowing them all richly. The number of the faithful grew in a short time so much, that he divided Hungary into ten dioceses, to all of which he endeavored to give holy bishops. He sent a certain bishop Anastasius to Rome, to request the Pope to confirm all he had done for the propagation of the Christian faith, and also to beg the holy Father to proclaim him King, so that he would be invested with greater power, happily to conclude the conversion of the entire country. During the night on which Anastasius arrived at Rome, an Angel informed the Pope of St. Stephen’s request, and commanded him to give to the Saint’s ambassador the crown which he had designed for another prince. Inexpressibly rejoiced at everything that Anastasius related to him, the Pope confirmed what St. Stephen had done to disseminate the faith of Christ, and granted him the privilege to act further as he and his bishops thought the welfare of the Church demanded. He also sent him the crown and a cross of gold which should be carried before him after the coronation.
No sooner had Anastasius returned, than St. Stephen was solemnly anointed and crowned as first King of Hungary. After this he married Gisela, the sister of the holy emperor Henry, a princess not less talented than pious, who assisted him most assiduously in all his virtuous undertakings. Besides St. Stephen’s apostolic zeal in spreading the true faith, his charity and generosity deserved the admiration of the world. He was almost prodigal in distributing alms, and spared neither his own garments nor the royal treasures. He often washed the feet of the poor, visited the hospitals during the night and served the sick. Many hours of the night he passed so devoutly in prayer, that he frequently went into ecstasy and was raised high above the earth. The hours of the day he devoted most earnestly to the affairs of the government, and every one of his subjects had free access to him. He indulged neither in hunting, gaming, nor other similar amusements, giving all his time to the administration of the state and devout exercises; “for,” said he, “they are more pleasing to me than hunting, gaming and whatever else may amuse a king.”
Towards the Queen of heaven, whom he called “My Lady,” he was most devout from his tender youth and he chose her as patroness of Hungary. To her honor he built a most magnificent temple at Alba, where he resided. He built churches in her honor in several cities not in his dominions, as at Jerusalem, at Rome and at Constantinople, and to these he attached large convents. Hence, it is not surprising that the divine Mother protected her faithful servant, as the following events will prove. When the emperor Conrad II. invaded Hungary with his army, St. Stephen humbly begged his holy patroness to take him under her mighty protection. Then, at the head of his army, he went to meet the much stronger forces of the enemy. The following day, when everyone expected that a battle would take place, an imperial message arrived, ordering all the generals of the emperor’s army to retreat without showing any hostility to the Hungarians. In this manner, the king won a bloodless victory, which he gratefully ascribed to his heavenly patroness.
In truth, the Queen of heaven had rescued him; for, the emperor knew nothing of the message nor the order it contained, and when his generals showed him his own hand and seal, he was convinced that St. Stephen was under the protection of a higher power, and marched away with his forces. At another time, four of the most distinguished noblemen entered into a plot against the holy king, and one of them came into the royal apartment during the night, to murder him. On entering, the dagger, which he had concealed under his cloak, fell upon the floor, and the noise of it aroused the king, who was sick. He asked who was there, and the man, trembling with fear, cast himself at his feet, discovered the plot, and entreated his pardon. Stephen recognized again the motherly protection of the Blessed Virgin, and out of love for her, pardoned him, but committed his accomplices into the hands of justice.
Speaking of the sickness of the holy king, we must not omit to relate that God visited his servant, notwithstanding his fidelity and zeal, with great sorrows. He sent him a sickness which lasted three years, and what was still more painful, deprived him, by an early death, of all his children except one son. St. Stephen brought up this son, who was called Emeric, with the greatest care, and wrote, with his own hand, several instructions for him which he desired him to observe. Foremost among these were, that he should remain faithful to the Catholic faith, protect and disseminate it; that he should show due honor and obedience to the clergy; that he should cherish his subjects; attend to his prayers with fervor; be generous to the poor and suffering; deal out justice, and submit himself in adversity to the will of the Almighty. Emeric manifested in his conduct that he endeavored to live according to these holy precepts, and thus gave inexpressible peace and comfort to his father. The king daily begged the Almighty to preserve the life of this beloved son, that the Christian faith might have a protector in him. But this son also, whose holy life was an example of all Christian virtues, was destined to die before his father’s eyes, whose grief was too great for words; but greater still was his heroic resignation to the will of the Most High. He even conquered himself so far as to thank God that He had called his beloved son before him into the Kingdom of heaven.
The holy son was soon followed by the holy father. When his last hour, which God revealed to him, approached, he devoutly received the holy Sacraments, and then exhorted the bishops and the first men of the state to Christian charity and union; to rule with justice; to remain true to their faith; and not only take the utmost care to protect this, the only faith instituted by Christ, but also to propagate it more and more. After this, the dying Saint turned his eyes to God and his blessed patroness, Mary, and addressing the latter, he said: “To thee, O Queen of heaven, and to thy guardianship, I commend the holy Church, all the bishops and the clergy, the whole kingdom, its rulers and inhabitants; but before all, I commend my soul to thy care.” In such devout sentiments, he died, on the festival of the Assumption of Our Lady, his greatly venerated patroness. He was truly a great king, adorned with all the virtues of a Christian. His holy body gave out a heavenly fragrance, and the health of many infirm was restored by touching the sacred relics. The hand with which the holy king had distributed so many generous alms, and which had done so many acts of kindness to the sick and the unfortunate, remained incorrupt long after his death.
I. The whole life of St. Stephen shows that he labored much for the honor of God and the spiritual and temporal welfare of man; and that he bore the crosses God laid upon him with Christian patience. For all this he now receives his reward in heaven: because his intentions were always holy, and his heart was free from sin. If you desire to be rewarded for your good works, and for what you do and suffer, your intentions, while working and suffering, must be good. But at the same time, you must be in a state of grace; for, the holy church teaches: first, that we can earn a reward from God through our good works, because God has promised to recompense them.
Secondly; that we can gain heaven, or an eternal reward in heaven by our good works, if they are performed in the proper manner. The judgment which Christ pronounces on the last day when He will invite the just to take possession of the heavenly kingdom as a recompense for their good works, is sufficient proof of this. It is, however, also necessary to know that we must be in a state of grace, that is, not burdened with a mortal sin, if we desire to obtain heaven by our good works; for, the grace of God is the root of all supernatural merits. When we perform our labors, or suffer, in a state of disgrace, in a mortal sin, we cannot expect, for such work or suffering, a reward in heaven, however good the works, or however bitter the suffering may have been. “And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor and have no charity, it profiteth me nothing,” to gain an eternal reward. Thus writes St Paul (i. Cor. xiii.). Hence, if you desire an eternal reward for your works and your sufferings, take heed that you may be constantly in a state of grace.
II. The holy king continued his good works and his patient suffering in a state of grace until his last hour. Hence he now enjoys an eternal reward. Had he, in the last year, nay, even in the last hour of his life, committed a mortal sin and died in it, he would not have received a recompense in heaven either for his good works, or his sufferings. For, the true faith teaches that, by committing a mortal sin, we lose all the merits of the good works we had previously performed. The words of God testify to the truth of this: “But if the just man turn himself from his justice and do iniquity all his justice which he hath done shall not be remembered and in his sin he shall die.” (Ezekiel, xviii.)
Learn from this what harm may be done by one mortal sin, and how earnestly we should endeavor to avoid it. If you were sure that you would lose all you possess, for which you have labored many years with care and pains, if you committed a mortal sin, tell me, would you consent to do it? Most assuredly, you would not, unless you had lost all your good sense. Why then do you commit sin so wantonly when you are assured that you will thereby lose much greater possessions, even the entire treasure of your merits? Is not this loss and the loss of heaven much more to be considered than that of all your temporal possessions? Ah, consider this earnestly, and be not your own enemy; do not injure yourself. “They that commit sin and iniquity, are enemies to their own souls.” (Tobias, xii.)
What has been said above is for every one; but the following words are especially for those parents whom death early deprives of their children. Many are sad at this, they murmur and complain against God. They ought to remember the conduct of the holy king Stephen, when he lost his beloved, kind and pious son; and they should endeavor to imitate him. That they should grieve or weep when death takes a child from them, is no sin, provided they remain within the limits of Christian patience and resignation. But to grieve immoderately, and to murmur and complain against God, is sinful. Tell me, you sad father, you weeping mother, who is it that has taken your child from you? Is it not God, the Lord over the life and death of all men? Does not your child belong more to the Almighty than to you? Does He wrong you by taking it from you? Not in the least. He is the Lord and Creator; He can take His own whenever He likes. Or shall He first ask your permission? Shall He account to you why He does it?
I trust that you do not entertain so unreasonable a thought. Why then do you murmur and complain against your God? You must know that what God did, was done either out of love for the child, or, from love to you. Perhaps God, reading the future knew that by your immoderate love or the bad education you would give to your child, you would draw upon yourself eternal misery. Perhaps He saw that your child would become a slave to sin and vice, and lose heaven. Is it not, therefore a sign of love towards you and your child, that God took it early to Himself? You ought to rejoice at the happiness it has attained, if it died in innocence. Could you have procured for him greater felicity? It ought surely to be enough for you to know that God demanded your child. The Lord called it away. What more can you require? If you will act sensibly, submit to the decrees of Providence, and confess before God, that you subject your will to His. Offer to Him the grief that death has caused you, and remember that all that God does is well done. Say with Holy Writ: “It is the Lord, let him do what is good in his sight.” (1 Kings iii.)
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place. 1876.