St. Hippolytus

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St. Hippolytus, Priest and Martyr

A.D. 252.

ONE of the most illustrious martyrs who suffered in the reign of Gallus 1 was St. Hippolytus, one of the twenty-five priests of Rome, who had the misfortune for some time to have been deceived by the hypocrisy of Novation and Novatus, and to have been engaged in their schism; but this fault he expiated by his public repentance, and a glorious martyrdom. He was apprehended, and interrogated on the rack in Rome; but the prefect of the city having filled it with Christian blood, went to Ostia to extend the persecution in those parts of the country, and ordered our saint and several other Christians who were then in prison at Rome, to be conducted thither after him. St. Hippolytus being brought out of prison, many of those who had been under his care, came to beg his last advice and blessing, as he was going to martyrdom; and he vehemently exhorted them to preserve the unity of the church. “Fly,” said he, “from the unhappy Novatus, and return to the Catholic church. Adhere to the only faith which subsists from the beginning, which was preached by Paul, and is maintained by the chair of Peter. I now see things in a different light, and repent of what I once taught.” After he had thus undeceived his flock, and earnestly recommended to all the unity of holy faith, he was conducted to Ostia. The prefect, who was gone before the prisoners the same day, as soon as they arrived, ascended his tribunal, surrounded with his executioners, and various instruments of torture. The confessors were ranged in several companies before him, and by their emaciated faces, the length of their hair, and the filth with which they were covered, showed how much they had suffered by their long imprisonment. The judge, finding that he was not able to prevail with any of them by torments, at length condemned them all to be put to death. Some he caused to be beheaded, others to be crucified, others burnt, and some to be put out to sea in rotten vessels, which immediately foundered. When the venerable old man, Hippolytus, was in his turn brought to him loaded with chains, a crowd of young people cried out to the judge, that he was a chief among the Christians, and ought to be put to death by some new and remarkable kind of punishment. “What is his name?” said the prefect. They answered: “Hippolytus.” The prefect said: “Then let him be treated like Hippolytus, and dragged by wild horses.” By this sentence he alluded to Hippolytus, the son of Theseus, who, flying from the indignation of his father, met a monster, the sight of which affrighted his horses, so that he fell from his chariot, and, being entangled in the harness, was dragged along, and torn to pieces. 2 No sooner was the order given but the people set themselves to work in assisting the executioners. Out of the country, where untamed horses were kept, they took a pair of the most furious and unruly they could meet with, and tied a long rope between them instead of a poll, to which they fastened the martyr’s feet. Then they provoked the horses to run away by loud cries, whipping and pricking them. The last words which the martyr was heard to say as they started, were: “Lord, they tear my body, receive thou my soul.” The horses dragged him away furiously into the woods, through brooks, and over ditches, briers, and rocks: they beat down the hedges, and broke through every thing that came in their way. The ground, the thorns, trees, and stones, were sprinkled with his blood, which the faithful that followed him at a distance weeping, respectfully sucked up from every place with spunges, and they gathered together all the mangled parts of his flesh and limbs, which lay scattered all about. They brought these precious relics to Rome, and buried them in the subterraneous caverns called catacombs, which Prudentius 3 here describes at large. He says that the sacred remains of St. Hippolytus were deposited in this place near an altar, at which the faithful were fed with the heavenly banquet, and the divine sacraments, and obtained the speedy effect of their requests to God. He testifies, that as often as he had prayed there when he was at Rome, for the remedy of his infirmities, whether of body or mind, he had always found the desired relief; but professes that he was indebted to Christ for all favours received, because he gave to his martyr Hippolytus the power to obtain for him the divine succour. He adds, that the chapel which contained these sacred relics shone within with solid silver with which the walls were incrustated, and on the outside with the brightest marble like looking-glass, which covered the walls, the whole being ornamented with abundance of gold. He says, that from the rising to the setting of the sun, not only the inhabitants of Rome, but many from remote countries, resorted in great numbers to this holy place, to pay adoration to God; and that especially on the martyr’s festival, on the Ides or 13th of August, both senators and people came thither to implore the divine mercy, and kiss the shrine which contained the relics. He moreover describes a sumptuous great church which was built in honour of the martyr near his tomb, and which was thronged with multitudes of devout Christians. He mentions 4 the effigies of the saint’s martyrdom skillfully drawn over his tomb. 5 1 Continue reading

St. Radegundes

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St. Radegundes, Queen of France

SHE was daughter of Bertaire, a pagan king of part of Thuringia, in Germany, who was assassinated by his brother Hermenfred. Theodoric, or Thierry, king of Austrasia, or Metz, and his brother Clotaire I., then king of Soissons, fell upon Hermenfred, vanquished him, and carried home a great booty. Among the prisoners, Radegundes, then about twelve years old, fell to the lot of King Clotaire, who gave her an education suitable to her birth, and caused her to be instructed in the Christian religion, and baptized. The great mysteries of our holy faith made such an impression on her tender soul, that, from the moment of her baptism, she gave herself to God with her whole heart, abridged her meals to feed the poor, whom she served with her own hands, and made prayer, humiliations, and austerities her whole delight. It was her earnest desire to serve God in the state of perpetual virginity; but was obliged at length to acquiesce in the king’s desire to marry her. Being by this exaltation become a great queen, she continued no less an enemy to sloth and vanity than she was before, and she divided her time chiefly between her oratory, the church, and the care of the poor. She also kept long fasts, and during Lent wore a hair-cloth under her rich garments. Clotaire was at first pleased with her devotions, and allowed her full liberty in them; but afterwards, by ambition and other passions, his affections began to be alienated from her, and he used frequently to reproach her for her pious exercises, saying, he had married a nun rather than a queen, who converted his court into a monastery. His complaints were unjust, for she made it one of the first points of her devotion never to be wanting in any duty of her state, and to show the king all possible complaisance. She repaid injuries only with patience and greater courtesy and condescension, doing all the good in her power to those who were her declared enemies in prepossessing her husband against her. Clotaire at length caused her brother to be treacherously assassinated, that he might seize on his dominions in Thuringia. Radegundes, shocked at this base act of inhumanity, asked his leave to retire from court, which she easily obtained. Clotaire himself sent her to Noyon, that she might receive the religious veil from the hands of St. Medard. The holy prelate scrupled to do it for some time, because she was a married woman; but was at length prevailed upon to consecrate her a deaconess. 1  Continue reading

Saint John Berchmans

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Saint John Berchmans

Jesuit Seminarian

Born in 1599 in Diest, a town of northern Belgium near Brussels and Louvain, this angelic young Saint was the oldest of five children. Two of his three brothers became priests, and his father, after the death of John’s mother when he was eleven years old, entered religion and became a Canon of Saint Sulpice.

John was a brilliant student from his most tender years, manifesting also a piety which far exceeded the ordinary. Beginning at the age of seven, he studied for three years at the local communal school with an excellent professor. And then his father, wanting to protect the sacerdotal vocation already evident in his son, confided him to a Canon of Diest who lodged students aspiring to the ecclesiastical vocation. After three years in that residence, the family’s financial situation had declined owing to the long illness of the mother, and John was told he would have to return and learn a trade. He pleaded to be allowed to continue his studies. And his aunts, who were nuns, found a solution through their chaplain; he proposed to take John into his service and lodge him. Continue reading

Our Lady Refuge of Sinners

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Our Lady Refuge of Sinners

No one pleases God or Our Lady by exaggerating. Religion is not served by false piety, however well-intentioned it may be. That was the fundamental error of Henry Adams’ over-praised book on Mont St. Michel and Chartres. He misread the mediaeval mind, in ascribing to the Catholics of that time the false belief that Mary was more merciful than Her Son and that She would save them no matter how much they had offended Jesus. Adams pretended to believe that the blue “Mary windows” were the essential thing in the Cathedral of Chartres, whereas every true Catholic knows that in Chartres, as in every Catholic church, the centre to which everything else is related is the altar of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Devotion to Mary never detracts from the honour owed to God. Continue reading