Saint Hermenegild, Martyr
It is through a Martyr’s palm-branch that we must today see the Paschal Mystery. Hermenegild, a young Visigoth Prince, is put to death by his heretical father, because he courageously refused to receive his Easter Communion from an Arian Bishop. The Martyr knew that the Eucharist is the sacred symbol of Catholic unity; and that we are not allowed to approach the Holy Table in company with them that are not in the true Church. A sacrilegious consecration gives heretics the real possession of the Divine Mystery, if the priestly character be in him who dares to offer Sacrifice to the God whom he blasphemes; but the Catholic, who knows that he may not so much as pray with heretics, shudders at the sight of the profanation, and would rather die than share, by his presence, in insulting our Redeemer in that very Sacrifice and Sacrament, which were instituted that we might all be made one in God.
The blood of the Martyr produced its fruit: Spain threw off the chains of heresy that had enslaved her, and a Council, held at Toledo, completed the work of conversion begun by Hermenegild’s sacrifice. There are very few instances recorded in history of a whole Nation rising up in a mass to abjure heresy; but Spain did it, for she seems to be a country on which heaven lavishes exceptional blessings. Shortly after this she was put through the ordeal of the Saracen invasion; she triumphed here again by the bravery of her children; and ever since then, her Faith has been so staunch and so pure, as to merit for her the proud title of The Catholic Kingdom.
St. Gregory the Great, a contemporary of St. Hermenegild, has transmitted to us the following account of the martyrdom. The Church has inserted it in her Second Lessons of today’s Matins.
From the book of the Dialogues of Saint Gregory, Pope.
King Hermenegild, son of Leovigild king of the Visigoths, was converted, from the Arian heresy, to the Catholic faith, by the preaching of the venerable Leander, Bishop of Seville, one of my oldest and dearest friends. His father, who continued in the Arian heresy, did his utmost, both by promises, and threats, to induce him to apostatise. But Hermenegild returned him ever the same answer, that he never could abandon the true faith, after having once known it. The father, in a fit of displeasure, deprived him not only of his right to the throne, but of everything he possessed. And when even this failed to break the energy of his soul, he had him put into close confinement with chains on his neck and hands. Hereupon the youthful king Hermenegild began to despise the earthly, and ardently to long for the heavenly, kingdom. Thus fettered, and wearing a hairshirt, he besought the Omnipotent God to support him. As to the glory of this fleeting world, he nobly looked on it with disdain, the more so as his captivity taught him the nothingness of that which could thus be taken from him.
It was the Feast of Easter. At an early hour of the night, when all was still, his wicked father sent an Arian Bishop to him, with this message, that if he would receive Communion from his hands, (the Communion of a sacrilegious consecration!) he should be restored to favour. True to his Creator, the man of God gave a merited reproof to the Arian Bishop, and, with holy indignation, rejected his sinful offer; for though his body lay prostrate in chains, his soul stood on ground beyond the reach of tyranny. The Bishop therefore, returned whence he had come. The Arian father raged, and straightway sent his lictors, bidding them repair to the prison of the unflinching Confessor of the Lord, and murder him on the spot. They obeyed; they entered the prison; they cleft his skull with a sword; they took away the life of the body, and slew what he, the slain one, had sworn to count as vile. Miracles soon followed, whereby heaven testified to the true glory of Hermenegild; for during the night, there was heard sweet music nigh to the body of the King and Martyr,–King indeed, because he was a Martyr.
It is said that lights were seen at the same time burning in the prison. The Faithful were led, by these signs, to revere the body, as being that of a martyr. As to the wicked father, he repented for having imbrued his hands in his son’s blood; but his repentance was not unto salvation, inasmuch as, whilst acknowledging the Catholic Faith to be the true one, he had not the courage to embrace it, for he feared the displeasure of his subjects. When in his last sickness, and at the point of death, he commended his son Reccared, a heretic, to the care of Leander the Bishop, whom he had hitherto persecuted, but from whom he now asked, that he would do for this son what he had, by his exhortations, done for Hermenegild. Having made this request, he died, and was succeeded, on the throne, by Reccared, who taking, not his wicked father, but his martyred brother, as his model, he abandoned the impious Arian heresy, and led the whole Visigoth nation to the true Faith. He would not allow any man to serve in his armies, who dared to continue the enemy of the God of hosts by heresy. Neither is it to be wondered at, that being the brother of a Martyr, he should have become a propagator of the true Faith, for it was by Hermenegild’s merits that he has succeeded in reconciling so many thousands to the great God of heaven.
Pope Urban the Eighth composed the two following Hymns
for the Feast of the holy Martyr: we unite them under one conclusion.
Hymn: Regali Solio Fortis Iberiae
The royal throne of heroic Iberia counts thee, Hermenegild, as one of its glories: so, too, do the Martyrs, whose love of Christ has numbered them among the Blessed of heaven.
How courageously didst thou keep thy promised allegiance to God! He was dear to thee above all things else; and as to the dangerous pleasures of this world, thou warily didst reject them.
Thou restrainedst the passions, which excite and foster vice. Thou marchedst onwards, with unfaltering step, to where the path of truth directs.
Thy father’s promises could not seduce thee. The luxuries of a life of ease and wealth, the glitter of diamonds, the prospect of a throne,–they could not allure thee.
Thou wast not affrighted by the threat of a cruel death, or by the executioner’s merciless rage; for the everlasting joys of heaven were dearer to thee than those of time.
Do thou now kindly protect us from thy heavenly throne, and graciously receive the prayers we present to thee whilst celebrating the palm made thine by martyrdom.
To the Father, the Lord of all things, be eternal honour! Let the Faithful assembled here in prayer, glorify the Son; let them sing forth endless praise to the Holy Ghost. Amen.
We offer thee, O brave witness to the truth of holy Faith! our admiration and gratitude. Thy courageous death was proof of the love thou hadst for Christ; and thy contempt of earthly honours teaches us to despise them. Heir to a throne, a prison was thy abode here below. It was from thy prison that thou ascendedst to heaven, wearing on thy brow the laurels of Martyrdom,–a crown far brighter than that which was offered thee on condition of thy apostatising from the Faith. Pray now for us: the Church asks it of thee, by inserting thy name in the Calendar of her Saints. The Pasch was the day of thy triumph: obtain for us that this may be a true Pasch to us,–a real resurrection, which may lead us to the heaven above, where we may enjoy, with thee, the sight of our Risen Jesus. Intercede for us, that we may be firm in the Faith, obedient to the teachings of holy Church, and enemies to every error and innovation. Protect Spain, thy fatherland, which owes to thy Martyrdom long centuries of loyalty to the true Faith. Pray for her, that she may ever continue to merit her glorious title of The Catholic Kingdom.
The Liturgical Year. 1904. Abbot Dom Gueranger, O.S.B. Translated from the French by Dom Laurence Shepherd, O.S.B. Imprimatur, 1910.