Alfred the Great

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Alfred the Great

(Also Ælfred).

King of the West-Saxons, born Wantage, Berkshire, England 849; died 899.

Alfred was the fifth son of Ethelwulf, or Æthelwulf, King of Wessex, and Osburh, his queen, of the royal house of the Jutes of Wight. When he was four years old, according to a story which has been repeated so frequently that it is generally accepted as true, he was sent by his father to Rome, where he was anointed king by Pope Leo IV. This, however like many other legends which have crystallized about the name of Alfred, is without foundation. Two years later, in 855, Ethelwulf went on a pilgrimage to Rome, taking Alfred with him. This visit, recorded by Asser, is accepted as authentic by modern historians.

In 858 Ethelwulf died and Wessex was governed by his sons, Ethelbald, Ethelbert, and Ethelred, successively, until 871, when Alfred came to the throne. Nothing is known of his movements during the reigns of Ethelbald and Ethelbert, but Asser, speaking of him during the reign of Ethelred, gives him the title of Secundarius. In 868 he married Ealhswith, daughter of Ethelred, surnamed the Mickle, Ealdorman of the Gainas. The West-Saxons and the Mercians were then engaged in a war against the invading Danes and Alfred took an active part in the struggle. He ascended the throne during the thickest of this conflict, but before the end of the year he succeeded in effecting a peace, probably by paying a sum of money to the invaders. Continue reading

Saint Evaristus

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Saint Evaristus

Pope and martyr
(† 108)

Saint Evaristus succeeded Saint Anacletus on the throne of Saint Peter, elected during the second general persecution, under the reign of Domitian. That emperor no doubt did not know that the Christian pontificate was being perpetuated in the shadows of the catacombs. The text of the Liber Pontificalis, says of the new pope:

Evaristus, born in Greece of a Jewish father named Juda, originally from the city of Bethlehem, reigned for thirteen years, six months and two days, under the reigns of Domitian, Nerva and Trajan, from the Consulate of Valens and Veter (96) until that of Gallus and Bradua (108). This pontiff divided among the priests the titles of the city of Rome. By a constitution he established seven deacons who were to assist the bishop and serve as authentic witnesses for him. During the three ordinations which he conducted in the month of December, he promoted six priests, two deacons and five bishops, destined for various churches. Evaristus received the crown of martyrdom. He was buried near the body of Blessed Peter in the Vatican, on the sixth day of the Calends of November (October 25, 108). The episcopal throne remained vacant for nineteen days.

The Bollandists explain two passages of this text as follows: Saint Anacletus had ordained twenty-five priests for the city of Rome; Saint Evaristus completed this institution by settling the boundaries of each of these titles, and filling the vacancies which probably occurred during the persecution of Diocletian. As for the decree by which he ordains that seven deacons make up the cortege of the bishop, we find in the first epistle of Saint Anacletus a text which helps us to grasp and better perceive the discipline of the early Church. There existed amid the diverse elements which composed it in its first years, proud minds, envious souls, ambitious hearts which could not bear the yoke of obedience, and who by their revolts and incessant detraction fatigued the patience of the Apostles. The deacons were to be the Pope’s guards against their ill-intentioned projects.

It was at the same time as Saint Ignatius, the illustrious bishop of Antioch, that Pope Saint Evaristus gave his life by martyrdom. The acts of his martyrdom are lost, but we perceive that the same faith, heroism and devotion united the churches of the East and of the West. He is often represented with a sword because he was decapitated, or with a crib, because it is believed that he was born in Bethlehem, from which his father migrated.

Reflection: The disciples of the apostles, by assiduous meditation on heavenly things, were so rapt by foreshadowings of the life to come, that they seemed no longer to inhabit this world. If Christians esteem and set their hearts on earthly goods and lose sight of eternity, they are no longer animated by the spirit of the primitive Saints and have become children of this world, slaves to its vanities and to their own irregular passions. If we do not correct this disorder of our heart and conform our interior life, with its decisions and propensities, to the spirit of Christ, we cannot be heirs to His promises.

Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 12; Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).

SS. Chrysanthus and Daria

SS. Chrysanthus and Daria, Martyrs

In the Third Century.

CHRYSANTHUS and DARIA were strangers, who came from the East to Rome, the first from Alexandria, the second from Athens, as the Greeks tell us in their Menæa. They add, that Chrysanthus, after having been espoused to Daria, persuaded her to prefer a state of perpetual virginity to that of marriage, that they might more easily, with perfect purity of heart, trample the world under their feet, and accomplish the solemn consecration they had made of themselves to Christ in baptism. The zeal with which they professed the faith of Christ distinguished them in the eyes of the idolaters; they were accused, and, after suffering many torments, finished their course by a glorious martyrdom, according to their acts in the reign of Numerian; Baillet thinks rather in the persecution of Valerian, in 237. Several others who, by the example of their constancy, had been moved to declare themselves Christians, were put to death with them. St. Gregory of Tours says, 1 that a numerous assembly of Christians, who were praying at their tomb soon after their martyrdom, were, by the order of the prefect of Rome, walled up in the cave, and buried alive. SS. Chrysanthus and Daria were interred on the Salarian Way, with their companions, whose bodies were found with theirs in the reign of Constantine the Great. This part of the catacombs was long known by the name of the cemetery of SS. Chrysanthus and Daria. Their tomb was decorated by Pope Damasus, who composed an epitaph in their honour. 2 Their sacred remains were translated by Pope Stephen VI. in 866, part into the Lateran basilic, and part into the church of the Twelve Apostles. 3 This at least is true of the relics of their companions. Those of SS. Chrysanthus and Daria had been translated to the abbey of Prom, in the diocess of Triers, in 842, being a gift of Sergius II. In 844, they were removed to the abbey of St. Avol, or St. Navor, in the diocess of Metz. 4 The names of SS. Chrysanthus and Daria are famous in the sacramentaries of St. Gelasius and St. Gregory, and in the Martyrologies both of the western and eastern churches. The Greeks honour them on the 19th of March and 17th of October: the Latins on the 25th of October. 1

Note 1. L. de Glor. Mart. c. 38 and 83.
Note 2. Damas. Carm. 36.
Note 3. Bosius and Aringhi Roma subterr. l. 3, c. 24, and Anastasius the Librarian in his authentic relation of this translation.
Note 4. See Mabill. Sæc. 4, Ben. p. 611.

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume X: October.
The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

St. Gaudentius of Brescia

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St. Gaudentius of Brescia, Bishop and Confessor

HE seems to have been educated under St. Philastrius, bishop of Brescia, whom he styles his father. His reputation ran very high when he travelled to Jerusalem, partly to shun applause and honours, and partly hoping by his absence to be at last forgotten at home. In this, however, he was mistaken. In a monastery at Cæsarea, in Cappadocia, he met with the sisters and nieces of St. Basil, who, as a rich present, bestowed on him certain relics of the forty martyrs and some other saints, knowing that he would honour those sacred pledges as they had honoured them. 1 During his absence St. Philastrius died, and the clergy and people of Brescia, who had been accustomed to receive from him solid instructions, and in his person to see at their head a perfect model of Christian virtue, pitched upon him for their bishop, and fearing obstacles from his humility, bound themselves by oath to receive no other for their pastor. The bishops of the province met, and with St. Ambrose, their metropolitan, confirmed the election. Letters were despatched to St. Gaudentius, who was then in Cappadocia, to press his speedy return; but he only yielded to the threat of an excommunication if he refused to obey. He was ordained by St. Ambrose with other bishops of the province, about the year 387; the sermon which he preached on that occasion, expresses the most profound sentiments of humility with which he was penetrated. 2 1

The church of Brescia soon found how great a treasure it possessed in so holy a pastor. He never ceased to break to them the bread of life, and to feed their souls with the important truths of salvation. A certain virtuous nobleman, named Benevolus, who had been disgraced by the Empress Justina, because he refused to draw up an edict in favour of the Arians, had retired to Brescia, his own country, and was the greatest ornament of that church. This worthy nobleman being hindered by a severe fit of sickness from attending some of the sermons of St. Gaudentius, requested of him that he would commit them to writing for his use. 3 By this means we have seventeen of his sermons. 4 In the second which he made for the Neophites at their coming out of the font, he explaineth to them the mysteries which he could not expound in presence of the catechumens, especially the blessed eucharist, of which he says: “The Creator and Lord of nature who bringeth the bread out of the ground, maketh also of bread his own body; because he hath promised, and is able to perform it: and he who made wine of water, converteth wine into his own blood.” 5 The saint built a new church at Brescia, to the dedication of which he invited many bishops, and in their presence made the seventeenth sermon of those which are extant. In it he says: that he had deposited in this church certain relics of the forty martyrs, of St. John Baptist, St. Andrew, St. Thomas, St. Luke; some of the blood of SS. Gervasius, Protasius, and Nazarius, moulded into a paste, and of the ashes of SS. Sisinnius and Alexander. He affirms that a portion of a martyr’s relics is in virtue and efficacy the same as the whole. “Therefore,” says he, “that we may be succoured by the patronage of so many saints, let us run and supplicate with an entire confidence, and earnest desire, that by their interceding we may deserve to obtain all things we ask, magnifying Christ our Lord, the giver of so great grace.” 6 Besides these seventeen sermons of this father we have three others. The twentieth is a panegyric on St. Philastrius, 7 wherein our saint mentions that he had made a like panegyric on his holy predecessor every year on his anniversary festival for fourteen years. The saint exhorts Christians to banish all dissolute feastings accompanied with dancing and music, saying: “Those are wretched houses which resemble theatres. Let the houses of Christians be free from every thing of the train of the devil; let humility and hospitality be practised therein; let them be always sanctified by psalms and spiritual songs; let the word of God, and the sign of Jesus Christ (the cross) be in your hearts, in your mouths, on your countenance, at table, in the bath, when you go out and when you come in, in joy and in sorrow.” 8 In 405, St. Gaudentius was deputed with some others by the Roman council and by the Emperor Honorius into the East to defend the cause of St. Chrysostom before Archadius: for which commission St. Chrysostom sent him a letter of thanks which is extant, though the deputies were ill received, and imprisoned for some time in Thrace, and afterwards put on board a rotten vessel. St. Gaudentius seems to have died about the year 420; Labbe says in 427. Rufinus styles him “the glory of the doctors of the age wherein he lives.” He is honoured on this day in the Roman Martyrology. See his works printed in the Library of the Fathers, and more correctly at Padua, in 1720, 4to; also Ceillier, t. 10, p. 517; Cave, Hist. Littér. t. 1, p. 282. 2

Note 1. Gaudent. Serm. 17.
Note 2. Gaudent. Serm. 16.
Note 3. St. Gaudent. pref.
Note 4. Bibl. Patr. t. 5, p. 765.
Note 5. Ib. p. 947.
Note 6. Bibl. Patr. t. 5, p. 970.
Note 7. Extant in Surius ad 18 Julii.
Note 8. Serm. 8.

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume X: October.
The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

St. Boniface I

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St. Boniface I., Pope and Confessor

BONIFACE was a priest of an unblemished character, well versed in the discipline of the church, and advanced in years when he succeeded Zosimus in the pontificate on the 29th of December in 418. His election was made much against his will, as the relation of it, which was sent by the clergy and people of Rome, and by the neighbouring bishops to the Emperor Honorius, who resided at Ravenna, testifies. To it concurred seventy priests, some bishops, and the greatest part of the people; but three bishops and some others chose one Eulalius, an ambitious and intriguing man. Symmachus, prefect of Rome, sent an account of this division or schism to the emperor, who ordered that a synod should be assembled to determine the debate. The council which met desired that a greater number of prelates should be called, and made certain provisional decrees, to which Eulalius refused to submit. Whereupon he was condemned by a sentence of the council, and the election of Boniface ratified. This pope was a lover of peace, and remarkable for his mildness: yet he would not suffer the bishops of Constantinople to extend their patriarchate into Illyricum or the other western provinces which were then subject to the eastern empire, but had always belonged to the western patriarchate.

He strenuously maintained the rights of Rufus, bishop of Thessalonica, who was his vicar in Thessaly and Greece, and would allow no election of bishops to be made in those countries which were not confirmed by him, according to the ancient discipline. In Gaul he restored certain privileges to the metropolitical sees of Narbonne and Vienne, exempting them from any subjection to the primacy of Arles. This holy pope exerted his zeal against the Pelagians, and testified the highest esteem for the great St. Austin, who addressed to him four books against the Pelagians. St. Boniface in his third letter to Rufus, says: 1 “The blessed apostle Peter received by our Lord’s sentence and commission the care of the whole church, which was founded upon him.” 2 St. Boniface died towards the latter end of the year 422, having sat somewhat above three years and nine months, and was buried in the cemetery of St. Felicitas, which he had adorned on the Salarian Way. He had made many rich presents of silver patens, chalices, and other holy vessels to the churches in Rome. Bede quotes a book of his miracles, and the Roman Martyrology commemorates his name on this day. See his Epistles in Dom. Coutant’s complete edition of the Decretal Epistles of the Popes, of which he only lived to publish the first volume, in 1721, dying the same year at St. Germain des Prez. 3 The epistles of this pope are also printed in the collections of the councils, as in Labbe’s edition, t. 2, p. 1582, and t. 4, p. 1702. See on his life Baronius, and the Pontifical published by Anastasius the Librarian, (ap. Muratori Script. Ital. t. 3, p. 116,) with the dissertations of Ciampini, Schelstrate, Biancini, and Vignolius on that Pontifical. 1 Continue reading