St. Pius I

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St. Pius I., Pope and Martyr

ACCORDING to the pontificals, he was the son of one Rufinus, and a native of Aquileia. He had served the church among the clergy at Rome many years under Adrian and Antoninus Pius, 1 when, according to Tillemont, in the fourth year of the reign of the latter he succeeded St. Hyginus in the papacy in 142. He condemned the heresiarch Valentinus, and rejected Marcion, who came from Pontus to Rome after the death of Hyginus, as we have related elsewhere. The conflicts which St. Pius sustained obtained him the title of martyr, which is given him not only in Usuard’s Martyrology, but also in many others more ancient; though Fontanini, a most judicious and learned critic, strenuously maintains, against Tillemont, that he died by the sword. He passed to a better life in 157, and was buried at the foot of the Vatican hill on the 11th of July. See Tillemont, t. 2, p. 312, and especially Fontanini, who discusses at length all things relating to this pope, in his Historia Literaria Aquileiensis, l. 2, c. 3 and 4. 1

Note 1. Among the heathen emperors of Rome, Titus, the two Antonines, and Alexander deserved the best of their subjects, and the three last gained a great reputation for moral virtue. The Antonines were eminent for their learning, and devoted themselves to the Stoic philosophy. Arrius Antoninus, who had distinguished himself by his moderation and love of justice in several magistracies, was adopted by the Emperor Adrian in 138, and upon his death in the same year ascended the imperial throne. He was truly the father of his people during a reign of twenty-two years, and died in 161, being seventy-seven years old. He obtained the surname of Pius, according to some, by his gratitude to Adrian; but, according to others, by his clemency and goodness. He had often in his mouth the celebrated saying of Scipio Africanus, that he would rather save the life of one citizen than destroy one thousand enemies. He engaged in no wars, except that by his lieutenants he restrained the Daci, Alani, and Mauri, and by the conduct of Lollius Urbicus quieted the Britons, confining the Caledonians to their mountains and forests by a new wall. Yet the pagan virtues of this prince were mixed with an alloy of superstition, vice, and weakness. When the senate refused to enroll Adrian among the gods, out of a just detestation of his cruelty and other vices, Antoninus, by tears and entreaties, extorted from it a decree by which divine honours were granted that infamous prince, and he appointed priests and a temple for his worship. He likewise caused his wife Faustina to be honoured after her death as a goddess, and was reproached for the most dissolute life of his daughter Faustina the Younger, whom he gave in marriage to his adopted son, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus.
Xiphilin writes that the Christians shared in the mildness of his government. Yet though he did not raise by fresh edicts any new persecution, it is a notorious mistake of Dodwell and some others, who pretend that no Christians suffered death for the faith during his reign, at least by his order. Tertullian informs us (l. ad Scapul. c. 4,) that Arrius Antoninus, when he was only proconsul of Asia, put in execution the old unjust rescript of Trajan; and having punished some Christians with death, dismissed the rest, crying out to them: “O wretches, if you want to die, have you not halters and precipices to end your lives by?” St. Justin, in his first apology, which he addressed to Antoninus Pius, who was then emperor, testifies that Christians were tortured with the most barbarous cruelty without having been convicted of any crime. Also St. Irenæus, (l. 3, c. 3,) Eusebius, (l. 4, c. 10,) and the author of an ancient poem which is published among the works of Tertullian, are incontestable vouchers that this emperor, whom Capitolinus calls a most zealous worshipper of the gods, often shed the blood of saints. By the acts of St. Felicitas and her sons, it appears what artifices the pagan priests made use of to stir up the emperors and magistrates against the Christians. At length, however, Antoninus Pius, in the fifteenth year of his reign, of Christ 152, according to Tillemont, wrote to the states of Asia, commanding that all persons who should be impeached merely for believing in Christ, should be discharged, and their accusers punished according to the laws against informers, adding, “You do but harden them in their opinion, for you cannot oblige them more than by making them die for their religion. Thus they triumph over you by choosing rather to die than to comply with your will.” See Eusebius, l. 4, c. 26, where he also mentions a like former rescript of Adrian to Minutius Fundanus. Nevertheless, it is proved by Aringhi (Roma Subterran. l. 3, c. 22,) that some were crowned with martyrdom in this reign after the aforesaid rescript, the pusillanimous prince not having courage always to protect these innocent subjects from the fury of the populace or the malice of some governors.

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume VII: July. The Lives of the Saints. 1866. July 11.

SS. Rufina and Secunda

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SS. Rufina and Secunda, Virgins, Martyrs

THEY were sisters, and the daughters of one Asterius, a man of a senatorian family in Rome. Their father promised them in marriage, the first to Armentarius, and the second to Verinus, who were then both Christians, but afterwards apostatized from the faith when the storm raised by Valerian and Gallien in 257, fell upon the church. The two virgins resisted their solicitations to imitate their impiety, and fled out of Rome; but were overtaken, brought back, and after other torments condemned by Junius Donatus, prefect of Rome, to lose their heads. They were conducted twelve miles out of Rome, executed in a forest on the Aurelian Way, and buried in the same place. It was then called the Black Forest, Sylva Nigra, but from these martyrs this name was changed into that of Sylva Candida or the White Forest. A chapel was built over their tomb, which Pope Damasus demolished, erecting a large church in its room. A town rose in the same place, which was called Sylva Candida, and made an episcopal see. But the city being destroyed by barbarians in the twelfth century, the bishopric was united by Calixtus II., to that of Porto, and the relics of the saints were translated at the same time, in the year 1120, to the Lateran basilic, where they are kept near the baptistery of Constantine. See their Acts abridged by Tillemont, t. 4, p. 5. Also the remarks of Pinius the Bollandist, t. 3, Julij, p. 28, and Laderchius, Diss. de Basilicis SS. Marcellini et Petri, c. 2, p. 6.

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume VII: July. The Lives of the Saints. 1866. July 10.

The Seven Brothers, Martyrs, and St. Felicitas, Their Mother

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The Seven Brothers, Martyrs, and St. Felicitas, Their Mother

From their genuine acts in Ruinart, and Tillemont, t. 2. See the remarks of Pinius the Bollandist, t. 3, Julij, p. 5.

In the Second Century.

THE ILLUSTRIOUS martyrdom of these saints has been justly celebrated by the holy fathers. It happened at Rome under the emperor Antoninus, that is, according to several ancient copies of the acts, Antoninus Pius. 1 The seven brothers were the sons of St. Felicitas, a noble pious Christian widow in Rome, who brought them up in the most perfect sentiments and practice of heroic virtue. After the death of her husband she served God in a state of continency 2 and employed herself wholly in prayer, fasting, and works of charity. By the public and edifying example of this lady and her whole family, many idolaters were moved to renounce the worship of their false gods, and to embrace the faith of Christ, which Christians were likewise encouraged by so illustrious a pattern only to profess. This raised the spleen of the heathenish priests, who complained to the emperor Antoninus that the boldness with which Felicitas publicly practised the Christian religion, drew many from the worship of the immortal gods who were the guardians and protectors of the empire, and that it was a continual insult on them; who, on that account, were extremely offended and angry with the city and whole state. They added, that in order to appease them, it was necessary to compel this lady and her children to sacrifice to them. Antoninus being himself superstitious was prevailed upon by this remonstrance to send an order to Publius the prefect of Rome, to take care that the priests should be satisfied, and the gods appeased in this matter. Publius caused the mother and her sons to be apprehended and brought before him. When this was done he took Felicitas aside, and used the strongest inducements to bring her freely to sacrifice to the gods, that he might not be obliged to proceed with severity against her and her sons; but she returned him this answer: “Do not think to frighten me by threats, or to win me by fair speeches. The spirit of God within me will not suffer me to be overcome by Satan, and will make me victorious over all your assaults.” Publius said in a great rage: “Unhappy woman, is it possible you should think death so desirable as not to permit even your children to live, but force me to destroy them by the most cruel torments?” “My children,” said she, “will live eternally with Christ if they are faithful to him; but must expect eternal death if they sacrifice to idols.” The next day the prefect, sitting in the square of Mars before his temple, sent for Felicitas and her sons, and addressing his speech to her said: “Take pity on your children, Felicitas; they are in the bloom of youth, and may aspire to the greatest honours and preferments.” The holy mother answered: “Your pity is really impiety, and the compassion to which you exhort me would make me the most cruel of mothers.” Then turning herself towards her children, she said to them: “My sons, look up to heaven where Jesus Christ with his saints expects you. Be faithful in his love, and fight courageously for your souls.” Publius being exasperated at this behaviour, commanded her to be cruelly buffeted, saying: “You are insolent indeed, to give them such advice as this in my presence, in contempt of the orders of our princes.” 1 Continue reading