Saint Vincent, Deacon and Martyr
Vincent, the Victorious, vested in the sacred dalmatic, and holding his palm in his hand, comes, today, to his Jesus’ Crib, and right welcome is he to Stephen, the Crowned, his leader and his brother. Spain is his country. He is a Deacon of the glorious Church of Saragossa, and, by the strength and warmth of his faith, he is a type of that land, which is, by excellence, the Catholic Kingdom, But he does not belong to Spain only: like Stephen, and like Laurence, Vincent is the favourite and hero of the whole Church. Stephen, the Deacon, preached the divinity of Jesus amidst the shower of stones which were hurled upon him as a blasphemer; Vincent, the Deacon, confessed his faith in Jesus upon his red-hot gridiron, as did that other Deacon, Laurence. This triumvirate of Martyr-Deacons cluster together in the sacred Litany, and when we hear their three grand names, the Crown, the Laurel, and the Conqueror, we hail them as the three bravest Knights of our most dear Lord.
Vincent triumphed over the torture of fire, because the flame of divine love which burned within his soul, was keener than that which scorched his body. He was comforted, in the most miraculous manner, during his great sufferings; but God worked these prodigies, not to deprive Vincent of His crown, but to show His own power. The holy Deacon had but one thought in the midst of all his pains–he was ambitious to make a return, by the gift of his own life, for that sacrifice whereby his divine Master had died for him and for all men. And now, that so generous a lover of God should be at the Crib of this same Jesus–is it not right and just? Oh! how he urges us, every Christmas, to love this Divine Infant! He that hesitated not, when called on to give himself to his Lord, even though it was to cost him such cruel pains–what cowards would he not call us, who can come so many Christmases to Bethlehem, and have nothing to give, but cold and divided hearts? His sacrifice was to be burnt alive, and torn, and cut, and he smiled as he gave it: what are we to say of ourselves, who take years to think before we will give up those childish things, which prevent us from ever seriously beginning a new life, with our new-born Jesus! Would that the sight of all these Martyrs, in whose company the Church has made us live during these few last days, would touch our hearts, and make them resolute and simple!
There is an ancient christian tradition, which makes St. Vincent the patron of vineyards and labourers in vineyards. This was, no doubt, suggested by the Saint’s having held the office of Deacon; for the Deacon has to pour wine into the chalice during the holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and that wine is to be changed into the Blood of Christ. A few days ago, we assisted at the mystery of the Feast at Cana: Jesus then offered us the sacred cup, the wine of his love: today, again, He offers it to us by the hand of his Martyr Vincent. To make himself worthy of his high office, the holy Deacon mingled his own blood, as a generous wine, in the cup that holds the price of the world’s salvation. It is thus that we are to understand that expression of St. Paul, which says, that the Saints fill up, in the flesh, by the merit of their sufferings, those things that are wanting, not in their efficacy, but in their fulness, of the sufferings of Christ (Coloss. i. 24), whose members the Saints are.
We will now give the abridged account
of the martyrdom of St. Vincent, as it is
related in the Lessons of his Feast.
Vincent was born at Huesca, a town of northern Spain, and, when quite a child, applied himself to study. He was taught the sacred sciences by Valerius, the Bishop of Saragossa. This prelate intrusted him with the duty of preaching the Gospel, on account of himself not being able to discharge that office, by reason of an impediment in his speech. This having reached the ears of Dacian, who had been made governor of that province by Dioclesian and Maximian, Vincent was apprehended at Saragossa, and was led in chains to Valencia, before the judgment-seat of Dacian. There he was tortured by lashes and the rack, in the presence of many people; but neither the violence of the torments, nor the harsh or bland speeches addressed to him, could induce him to swerve from his resolution. He was therefore laid on a gridiron, which was set upon burning coals; his flesh was torn off with iron hooks, and red-hot plates were laid over him. After this he was led back to prison, the floor of which had been strewed with broken potsherds, in order that when he lay down to sleep, his body might be tortured by their sharp edges.
But, whilst be was shut up in this dark prison, a most bright light penetrated the place. They who were present, were astonished beyond measure, and the gaoler informed Dacian of what had occurred. Vincent was then ordered to be taken out of prison, and put on a soft bed; for the governor thought to gain over by such comforts as this, him whom he had failed to seduce by tortures. But Vincent’s invincible spirit, strengthened by its faith and hope in Christ Jesus, overcame all their efforts; and after triumphing over fire, and sword, and all his tortures, took his flight to heaven, there to receive the crown of martyrdom, on the eleventh of the Calends of February (January 22). His body was thrown on a marsh, and denied burial; but a crow miraculously defended it, by its claws, beak, and wings, against birds of prey and a wolf. Dacian, hearing this, ordered it to be thrown into a deep part of the sea: but by a fresh prodigy, it was washed to the shore, and the Christians gave it burial.
Hail, Victorious Deacon! How beautiful art thou, with the Chalice of salvation in thy brave hands! It was thine office to offer it at the Altar, in order that the wine it contained might be changed by the sacred words, into the Blood of Christ; and, when the Mystery was accomplished, thou hadst to take this same Chalice, and present it to the Faithful, to the end that they who thirsted after their God, might drink at the source of eternal life. But, on this day, thou offerest it thyself to Jesus, and it is full to the brim with thine own blood. Oh! how faithful a Deacon! giving even thy very life in testimony to the Mysteries of which thou wast the dispenser. Three centuries had elapsed since Stephen’s sacrifice; sixty years had gone by since the sweet incense of Laurence’s martyrdom had ascended to the throne of God; and now, it is the last persecution–peace is dawning on the Church–and a third Deacon comes to prove that time had not impaired the Order–it was the Deacon of Saragossa–thyself, dear Saint!
Bright is thy name in the list of Martyrs, O Vincent! and the Church is proud of thy triumph. It was for the Church, after Jesus, that thou didst combat:–have pity on us, therefore, and signalise this day of thy Feast by showing us the effects of thy protection. Thou art face to face with the King of Ages, whose battle thou didst fight on earth, and thou gazest, with a loving yet dazzled eye, on His eternal beauty. We, also, we, who are in this valley of tears, possess Him, and see Him, for He calls himself our Emmanuel, God with us. But, it is under the form of a weak Babe that He shows Himself to us, for He fears to overpower us with the splendour of his majesty. Pray for us, O holy Martyr Vincent! for, at times, we tremble at the thought that this sweet Jesus is, one day, to be our Judge. When we reflect on what thou didst and sufferedst for him, we have scarcely courage to think upon ourselves, for, what good works can we show? or who can say of us, that we were ever warm in defending the cause of our Divine Master? Oh! that thy Feast might shame us into the earnest uncalculating simplicity, which this sweet Babe of Bethlehem is come to teach us–the simplicity which springs from humility and confidence in God, and which made thee go through all thy martyrdom with a brave, but oh! with such a calm spirit! Pray for us, that we may, at length, obey God who teaches us by His own example, and, with hearts ambitious for nought but the pleasing Him, accomplish His will, whatever that may ask of us; and all this with the calm cheerfulness of devoted service.
Pray Vincent, for all Christians, for all are called to fight against the world, and their own passions. We are all invited to a palm, a crown, a Victory. Jesus will admit none but conquerors to the banquet of eternal glory, where He has promised to drink with us the new wine, in the Kingdom of his Father (St. Matth. xxvi. 29). The wedding-garment, which all must have on who enter there, must be washed in the Blood of the Lamb–we must all be Martyrs, at least in heart, for we have all to triumph over self, and that is the harshest of tyrants.
Fly to the assistance of the Martyrs who, in distant countries, are dying for the true Faith; obtain for them such courage, that they may be the Vincents of our age. Protect Spain, thy country. Beseech our Emmanuel to send her heroes of thy stamp; that so, the Catholic Kingdom, which has ever been so jealous of purity of Faith, may speedily triumph over the trials, which are at present heavy upon her. Shall the illustrious Church of Saragossa– founded by St. James the Apostle, visited by the Blessed Mother of God, and sanctified by the ministry of thy deaconship–shall such a country as this ever grow indifferent about Faith, or suffer the bond of unity to be broken!–And since the devotion of the Christian people looks upon thee as the protector of the Vine, bless this portion of creation, which God has destined for man’s use, and which He has deigned to make both the instrument of the deepest of his Mysteries, and the symbol of His love of mankind.