St. Arcadius, Martyr
THE TIME of this saint’s martyrdom is not mentioned in his acts; some place it under Valerian, others under Dioclesian; he seems to have suffered in some city of Mauritania, probably the capital, Cæsarea. The fury of the tyrants raged violently, and the devil had instigated his soldiers to wage, like so many wolves, a bloody war against the servants of Jesus. Upon the least suspicion they broke into houses, made rigorous searches, and if they found a Christian, they treated him upon the spot with the greatest cruelty, their impatience not suffering them to wait the bringing him before a judge. Every day new sacrileges were committed; the faithful were compelled to assist at superstitious sacrifices, to lead victims crowned with flowers through the streets, to burn incense before idols, and to celebrate the enthusiastic feasts of Bacchus. Arcadius, seeing his city in great confusion, left his estate, and withdrew to a solitary place in the neighbouring country, serving Jesus Christ in watching, prayer, and other exercises of a penitential life. His flight could not be long a secret; for his not appearing at the public sacrifices made the governor send soldiers to his house, who surrounded it, forced open the doors, and finding one of his relations in it, who said all he could to justify his kinsman’s absence, they seized him, and the governor ordered him to be kept in close custody till Arcadius should be taken. The martyr, informed of his friend’s danger, and burning with a desire to suffer for Christ, went into the city, and presenting himself to the judge, said: “If on my account you detain my innocent relation in chains, release him; I, Arcadius, am come in person to give an account of myself, and to declare to you, that he knew not where I was.” “I am willing,” answered the judge, “to pardon not only him, but you also, on condition that you will sacrifice to the gods.” Arcadius replied, “How can you propose to me such a thing? Do you not know the Christians, or do you believe that the fear of death will ever make me swerve from my duty? Jesus Christ is my life, and death is my gain. Invent what torments you please; but know that nothing shall make me a traitor to my God.” The governor, in a rage, paused to devise some unheard-of torment for him. Iron hooks seemed too easy; neither plummets of lead, nor cudgels could satisfy his fury; the very rack he thought by much too gentle. At last imagining he had found a manner of death suitable to his purpose, he said to the ministers of his cruelty, “Take him, and let him see and desire death, without being able to obtain it. Cut off his limbs joint by joint, and execute this so slowly, that the wretch may know what it is to abandon the gods of his ancestors for an unknown deity.” The executioners dragged Arcadius to the place, where many other victims of Christ had already suffered: a place dear and sweet to all who sigh after eternal life. Here the martyr lifts up his eyes to heaven, and implores strength from above; then stretches out his neck, expecting to have his head cut off; but the executioner bid him hold out his hand, and joint after joint chopped off his fingers, arms, and shoulders. Laying the saint afterwards on his back, he in the same barbarous manner cut off his toes, feet, legs, and thighs. The holy martyr held out his limbs and joints, one after another, with invincible patience and courage, repeating these words, “Lord teach me thy wisdom:” for the tyrants had forgot to cut out his tongue. After so many martyrdoms, his body lay a mere trunk weltering in its own blood. The executioners themselves as well as the multitude, were moved to tears and admiration at this spectacle, and at such an heroic patience. But Arcadius, with a joyful countenance, surveying his scattered limbs all around him, and offering them to God, said, “Happy members, now dear to me, as you at last truly belong to God, being all made a sacrifice to him!” Then turning to the people, he said, “You who have been present at this bloody tragedy, learn that all torments seem as nothing to one, who has an everlasting crown before his eyes. Your gods are not gods; renounce their worship. He alone for whom I suffer and die, is the true God. He comforts and upholds me in the condition you see me. To die for him is to live; to suffer for him is to enjoy the greatest delights.” Discoursing in this manner to those about him, he expired on the 12th of January, the pagans being struck with astonishment at such a miracle of patience. The Christians gathered together his scattered limbs, and laid them in one tomb. The Roman and other Martyrologies make honourable mention of him on this day. 1
We belong to God by numberless essential titles of interest, gratitude, and justice, and are bound to be altogether his, and every moment to live to him alone, with all our powers and all our strength: whatever it may cost us to make this sacrifice perfect and complete, if we truly love him, we shall embrace it with joy and inexpressible ardour. In these sentiments we ought, by frequent express acts, and by the uninterrupted habitual disposition of our souls, to give all we are and have to God, all the powers of our souls, all the senses and organs of our bodies, all our actions, thoughts, and affections. This oblation we may excellently comprise in any of the first petitions of our Lord’s prayer: the following is a form of an oblation to our divine Redeemer which St. Ignatius of Loyola drew up and used to repeat, “O sovereign King, and absolute Lord of all things, though I am most unworthy to serve you, nevertheless, relying on your grace and boundless mercy, I offer myself up entirely to you, and subject whatever belongs to me to your most holy will; and I protest in presence of your infinite goodness, and in presence of the glorious Virgin, your mother, and your whole heavenly court, that it is my most earnest desire, and unshaken resolution, to follow and imitate you the nearest I am able, in bearing all injuries and crosses with meekness and patience, and in labouring to die to the world and myself in a perfect spirit of humility and poverty, that I may be wholly yours, and you may reign in me in time and eternity.”
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume I: January.
The Lives of the Saints. 1866.