St. Spiridion, Bishop and Confessor
SPIRIDION, or SPIRIDON, was a native of Cyprus, was married, and had a daughter named Irene, who lived always a virgin. His employment was that of keeping sheep, which in the patriarchal times even kings thought not beneath their dignity. In this retired state simplicity and innocence of heart engaged the Almighty to furnish him with extraordinary lights in the paths of virtue, which it was the more easy for him safely to pursue, as he shunned the company of those whose example and false maxims might have induced him to take the same liberties they did, and fall into a worldly course of life. For there is no more dangerous snare to our souls than the conversation of that world which is condemned by the gospel; that is to say, that society and commerce of men who are animated with the spirit of irregular self-love, and that corruption of the heart which all men inherit from their first birth from Adam, and by which they live who have not vanquished it by grace, and put on the spirit of Christ. It is not enough for a Christian to guard himself against this contagious air abroad: he has an enemy at home, a fund of corruption within his own heart, which he must resist and purge himself of; and this not in part only, but entirely. They deceive themselves, who desire to be saved through Christ, without taking pains to put on perfectly the spirit of Christ; they who are willing to give alms, fast, and spend much time in prayer, but with all this are for reserving and sparing this or that favorite passion, this vanity, this pleasure, or this spirit of revenge. Spiridion made such use of the advantages which his state afforded him for virtue, as to seem to rival the Macariuses in their deserts: and he was honoured with the gift of miracles. 1
Sacred learning is necessary in a minister of the church; but sanctity is not less necessary. Nothing is so eloquent, or so powerfully persuasive as example. A learned man may convince; but to convert souls is chiefly the privilege of those that are pious. There have been few ages in which polite literature has been cultivated with greater ardour than the present wherein we live. How many great orators, how many elegant writers have made their appearance in it! If these were all saints, what a reformation of manners should we see among the people! It is sanctity that possesses the art of softening the heart, and subduing all the powers of the soul. An edifying life proves the preacher sincere, and is alone a sermon which obstinacy itself will find it hard to hold out against: it stops the mouth of the enemies of truth and virtue. The life, vigour, and justness of a discourse are the fruit of wit, genius, and study; but unction in words is produced only by the heart. A man must be animated with the spirit of God to speak powerfully on divine things; the conversion of hearts is the work of God. A father and a mother are surprised that their instructions seem thrown away upon their children; but let them remember, that if they spoke the language of men and angels, if they have not themselves charity, or true piety, they are only a sounding trumpet. Children, in their most tender infancy, observe with incredible penetration and sagacity every word and action of others, especially of those whom they revere and love; in these they naturally discern and read the spirit of all the passions with which such persons are actuated, deeply imbibe the same, learn to think and act from them, and are entirely moulded upon this model. The children of worldly parents will probably differ from them only in this, that their passions, by being strengthened so early will become with age more blind and headstrong. 3
Note 1. Sozom. l. 1, c. 11, p. 24, ed. Cantabr. an. 1720.
Note 2. Calvin and Kemnitius make this fact a mighty subject of triumph, inferring, that the fast of Lent was not then of precept, though a universal practice. But that it was of precept is manifest from antiquity: and even in this history from the traveller’s scruple, the mention of his great weariness [Greek], and Spiridion’s asking God pardon [Greek], or the ratification of the dispensation. It is clear that Spiridion, who as a rigorous faster, but a great lover of charity and hospitality, judged the circumstances, with which we are not perfectly acquainted, a sufficient necessity for a dispensation in the ecclesiastical law, which is a point of prudence; and Spiridion was doubtless more free than others, or the action would not have been singular, or taken notice of by the historian. Dispensations from Lent were formerly very rare and difficult. The reason alleged that all things are clean, is of the same purport, showing the law to be dispensable, it being only a positive precept of the church. For though it be an act of virtue, and sometimes commanded to fast and abstain from certain meats out of motives of holy mortification, and both Jews in the old law, and Christians in the new, always observed solemn fast-days, it is superstitious to abstain with the Manichees and some other heretics, upon an erroneous persuasion that certain meats are in themselves unclean, or from the devil, which is all that Spiridion meant.
Note 3. Substituting [Greek] for [Greek].
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume XII: December.
The Lives of the Saints. 1866. December 14.