Saint Cyprian and Saint Justina, Martyrs
The native place of St. Justina was Antioch. Her parents were pagans, and hence, educated their daughter in the blindness of idolatry. As Justina had been gifted by the Almighty with great intellect, she early in life recognized the nothingness of idolatry and was easily moved to embrace Christianity. No sooner had she been converted, than she rested not until her parents had also joined the faithful. Her desire to serve God most perfectly in the Christian faith incited her zealously to practice all virtues. Especially did she esteem virginal purity, and she consecrated herself to the Almighty by a solemn vow.
In the city where she lived, resided also a noble youth named Aglaides, who, admiring Justina, desired to make her his wife. Justina told him, without any hesitation, that he must give up all thought of her, not only because she was a Christian and he a heathen, but also because she had already consecrated her virginity to a much nobler spouse. The youth who was not so easily to be refused, sent her one letter after another, seeking thus to win her affections. The chaste virgin accepted neither letters nor presents, but repeated her words, adding that she never would change. As he could not gain admittance into her house, he watched for her when she went to Church. One day, meeting her all alone in a narrow street, he hastened towards her. Justina, horrified at his impertinence, defended herself with a strength which is only possessed by the virtuous when sustained by the Most High. In her terror she called loudly for help, and raising her eyes, thus prayed to the divine Mother: “O Virgin, come to the assistance of a virgin!” The neighboring people who had heard her repeated cries, came running towards her, and driving the youth away, rescued the innocent maiden. When Justina arrived in Church, she gave most fervent thanks to God and the Virgin Mother, for the assistance they had vouchsafed to her.
The unchaste youth, however, had still no peace. Blinded and hardened, he went, by the instigation of Satan, to a magician, named Cyprian, who, at that period, had great celebrity. Telling him that he wanted to marry Justina, he requested him to force her by his art to consent, and promised him a large sum of money should he succeed. The magician promised everything, and conjuring the devil, commanded him to torment Justina until she accepted the offer of Aglaides. The Almighty permitted the chaste virgin to be tormented by the Evil One day and night, with the most abominable thoughts. But taking refuge in prayer, she signed herself often with the holy cross, determined in her heart to conquer all temptations, often renewing her vow and repeating with great trust the words: “O Virgin, come to the assistance of a virgin!” In a word, she fought so bravely, that the devil could gain no power over her.
Aglaides going to the magician, complained of the ill success of his art. Conjuring Satan, Cyprian sent more evil spirits to trouble her with their temptations; but they had no better success than the former. Cyprian, full of astonishment, asked the devils whence it happened that they could not become masters of so weak a being. One of them, evidently forced by God, said: “She is a Christian and calls continually on her God, and uses against us the sign of the Cross. Therefore we can have no power over her.” Cyprian wisely responded: “This proves clearly, that the God of Justina is more mighty than you all together. Hence I have acted very foolishly in serving you; and now I renounce you, and in future, will give my service to the God of Justina.” How great a change worked by the hand of the Almighty! Cyprian endeavored to execute his resolution without loss of time.
He was acquainted with Eusebius, a holy priest, who had often exhorted him to forsake his magic, and seek Christ. To him Cyprian repaired, and having acquainted him with all that had happened, he earnestly asked him whether the God of the Christians would receive a magician among His servants and if He could and would forgive his misdeeds. Eusebius assured him that the Almighty would not withhold His pardon; and having explained to him the immeasurable mercy of God, who promises to all sinners doing penance, grace and pardon, he went with him to the bishop, who might give him still better instructions on the subject. Cyprian acquainted him with his desire to do penance and become a Christian, and as a sign that he was in earnest he brought all his magical books and burned them in presence of the bishop.
Anthimus, the bishop, was rejoiced at the conversion of so great a sinner, and treating Cyprian most kindly, instructed him in the Christian faith, and baptized him. Justina’s heart also was filled with inexpressible consolation, when she heard Cyprian’s history, and giving thanks to the Almighty for having turned his wicked plans into good, she prayed that he might remain constant in the true faith. There yet remained Aglaides to be won. But by the mercy of God towards the greatest sinners, he was also converted, gave all his possessions to the poor Christians, and having become one of their number, led, henceforth, a pious and penitential life.
Cyprian showed himself, after his conversation, not only anxious for his own salvation, but endeavored also to bring others to Christ. He and Aglaides gave humble thanks to St. Justina, as she had been the means by which they had been converted; for all three would have gone to destruction, had she not bravely resisted the evil temptations to which they exposed her.
Eutholius, the governor of Phoenicia, hearing what had taken place in regard to the magician Cyprian, who had been greatly celebrated and much beloved by the pagans, reported the whole proceedings to the Emperor Dioclesian, and in return received the order to leave nothing undone to bring Cyprian back to paganism. He then called the latter and Justina into his presence, and endeavored to persuade them to renounce Christ. Both, however, expounded the truth of the Christian faith so clearly to him, that he was deeply astounded. But as he desired not to appear too much in favor of the Christians, he commanded both to be buffeted and scourged, and then thrown into a dungeon, thinking that this would be enough to bring them back to idolatry. On perceiving that both remained immovable in their faith, he had them thrown into a large cauldron, filled with boiling tar and wax. The holy martyrs, remaining unharmed, praised God with a loud voice.
A magician, who had been a disciple of Cyprian, said that this was only a proof of the power of that art which Cyprian had formerly practiced, and offered to prove it still more clearly by exposing himself to the same test. When his offer had been accepted, he made some ridiculous signs, muttered some conjurations, and went towards the cauldron standing over the fire; but he was immediately seized by the flames and burned to ashes. This event increased the wonder at the miracle wrought on the holy martyrs. The Governor, who knew not what to do, sent them both to Nicomedia, where the emperor Dioclesian resided, who immediately ordered them to be decapitated. For six days and nights, the holy bodies remained in the open air, as the tyrant had commanded that they should be left a prey to wild beasts. But none of these touched them; and some Christians at last took them away by night, and having placed them on board a ship, they brought them to Rome, where they are still honored in our days.
I. Oh! that all who desire to live chastely in their station, would learn of St. Justina, how they ought to conduct themselves when they are tempted to sin by Satan or by wicked persons. To receive letters or presents; to have long, intimate and especially secret conversations with dangerous companions; to allow themselves to be caressed, is the sure way to great vices.
“A holy love,” writes St. Jerome, “has nothing to do with presents, flattering letters and caresses; for, all such things savor of the flesh and are far from a chaste love.” And again he says: “Immodest flatteries, jesting, laughing and caresses, are the beginning, and a certain sign of the approach of the death of purity.” Whoever detests sins against purity, let him guard against such a beginning; otherwise he is lost. When you are assailed by force, imitate the chaste Justina. Flee, if you can; but if this is not possible, resist courageously; above all things, use your voice. Call as loudly as you can to God and men for help. In this manner you will surely conquer any wicked person who would entice you to sin. If hell persecutes you with its temptations, let St. Justina be your model. Be not discouraged; the devil cannot force you, even should he call all his hellish companions to aid him. Prayer, the sign of the holy cross, calling to God and the Blessed Virgin, fasting, repeated resolutions not to be conquered, are such invincible weapons, that all hell cannot overcome him who makes use of them. Those who do not make use of them can blame themselves alone when they fall and go to perdition.
II. Cyprian and Aglaides were converted and became Saints, because Justina had so valiantly opposed their wicked schemes. Cyprian, to manifest how earnest he was in his conversion, cast his books and other instruments of his magic art from him. Both gave thanks to Justina for defending herself so bravely, as it opened their eyes to see the brink of the precipice upon which they stood. All three rejoice now eternally in heaven. It is a great miracle of divine mercy, when a magician or an unchaste person reforms ; and this miracle God performed on Cyprian and Aglaides. He is ready to work it on others also, who are addicted to vice, if they are only desirous to be converted. To be earnest, and to take due care not to offend again against purity, it is necessary that nothing be kept back which has reference to the vice of unchastity, as dangerous books, immodest pictures and other objects which incite to unchastity. One must shun all the occasions of sin, and break off all sinful acquaintances. If Justina had shown herself weak when tempted to sin, she would not have converted Cyprian and Aglaides. If she had consented and died with them in sin, she would now be with them in hell. There they would now curse and execrate each other. Learn from this, how much good we may do by resisting sin, and how much evil by being weak. Those who would tempt you to sin, will one day thank you if you resist them fearlessly; but they will curse and execrate you for consenting to their wickedness. Battle, therefore, bravely against the evil spirit, and all others who assail you. “Even unto death fight for justice.” (Eccles. iv.)
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.