Friday, February 1, 2019

St Vincent, amongst the Greatest of the Spanish Chivalry

Spanish knights in battle brave,
Southern fathers to them glory gave.
Deacon Vincent martyr-victor,
At the head of that host yonder.

Pray for Spain and for us sinners at the South, Holy Vincent!

A hymn in honor of St Vincent (+304, commemorated 22 Jan. and 11 Nov.), by Prudentius:

The Passion of St. Vincent the Martyr.

Blessed martyr, prosper the day of thy victory, the
day which marks the giving of the crown to thee,
Vincent, in recompense for thy blood. This day, when
thou hadst overcome torturer and judge, raised thee
out of this world's darkness up to heaven and delivered
thee in triumph to Christ. Now in company with the
angels thou shinest bright in the glorious robe which
as an invincible witness thou didst wash in streams
of blood, when the minister of idolatry, armed with
malignant laws, sought to compel thee with steel and
chains to offer sacrifice to the pagans' gods. First
he had uttered smooth, soft words of exhortation,
like a wolf on the hunt which first is pleasant with
the calf it means to ravish. " The mighty sovereign
of the world," says he, " who bears the sceptre of
Rome, has ordained that all the world shall be
subject to the ancient forms of religion. Ye Naza-
renes, attend, and put away your crude observance.
These stones which the emperor worships you must
propitiate with the smoke of sacrifice." Hereupon
Vincent, a Levite" of the sacred tribe and servant of
the altar of God, one of the seven milk-white pillars,
cries aloud : " Let these powers be your masters ;
you may worship stones and wood and become the
dead priest of dead gods. As for us, we shall confess
the Father who is the author of light, and Christ his
Son; He is the true and only God, O Datianus." *
On this the other grows warmer. " Dare you, un-
happy man," he says, " with rude speech outrage
this authority of gods and emperors, authority at
once religious and political, to which mankind gives
way, and does not the peril that threatens you in the
heat of your youth alarm you ? For truly this is the
order you must accept : either must you here and now
make supplication at the altar with incense and turf,
or pay the penalty of a bloody death." Vincent for
his part answered : " Come then, put forth all your
strength and all your authority; I openly resist it.
Hear what it is we say : Christ and the Father are
God ; his servants and witnesses we are. Rob us of
our faith if you can. Torture, imprisonment, the
claws, the hissing red-hot plate, even the final
suffering of death, are all mere sport to Christians.
How vain and futile are you rulers ! How senseless
Caesar's decree ! You bid us worship deities that
match your own minds, deities hewn out by a work-
man's hand, or cast with the help of the hollow
bellows, devoid of speech and motion, standing still,
blind and dumb. It is to these that costly shrines of
gleaming marble rise, for these that lowing bulls are
struck on the throat and fall. You will tell me there
are spirits there too. Yes, but spirits that are
teachers of sin, that lay traps for your lives, roaming,
violent, filthy spirits that privily push and drive you
into every kind of wickedness, to ravage the righteous
with slaughter and destroy the people of the godly.
Even they know and are conscious that Christ has
power and lives and that his kingdom, which the
faithless must dread, will presently come ; and they
cry out in confession when they are driven from their
hiding in the flesh by the power and name of Christ.
Your gods are devils too." 

Out of all patience with these thunders of the
martyr, the heathen judge cries : " Stop his mouth,
let the scoundrel say no more. Imprison his speech.
Quick ! Put the executioners on him, those gods of
death for criminals, who feed on the flesh they cut
off. Now I shall make this railer feel the authority
of a governor ; he shall not get off with pulling down
our gods for his amusement. Have you then the
insolence to claim that you alone must be allowed to
tread the Tarpeian rites under foot, and you alone
to trample on Rome, the senate, Caesar? Tie him
with his arms behind and rack him upwards and
downwards till the joints of his bones in every limb
are rent asunder with a crack. Then with cleaving
strokes lay bare his ribs of their covering, so that his
organs shall be exposed as they throb in the recesses
of the wounds." But the soldier of God laughed at
these commands, rebuking the blood-stained hands
because the claw thrust into him did not enter more
deeply into his body. And now the strong men had
used up all their powers in tearing him to pieces,
their panting exertion had tired and relaxed the
muscles of their arms ; but Vincent was only the more
cheerful, his countenance all unclouded and bright,
being lit up with the sight of thy presence, O Christ.
" What look is this ? Oh shame ! " cried Datianus in
a passion. " He is joyful and smiling ! It is a chal-
lenge ! The tortured is bolder than the torturer !
The energy so practised in the death of malefactors
makes no headway in this contest, its skill to hurt
is being beaten. But, you foster-sons of the prison,
a pair I have ever found invincible, hold your hands
awhile that your wearied vigour may revive. When
the wounds are quite dry and the congealed blood is
gathering in a scar, your hand will plough them up
again and tear them open."

To this the deacon retorts : "If now you see the
powers of your dogs grow feeble, come (for you are
yourself the superior executioner), show them how
they can cleave me to my lowest depths ; put in your
own hands and drink the hot streams. You mistake,
bloody man, if you think you are exacting punishment
from me when you mangle and kill a body which is
naturally subject to death. There is another, within
the body, whom no man is able to outrage, who is
unconfined, undisturbed, unharmed, exempt from
all your grievous pains. This that you struggle to
destroy with such vehement passion is but a frail
vessel of clay, doomed to be broken in one way or
another. But try now rather to cut and beat the
being who stands fast within, who tramples on your
madness, persecutor! This, this is he you must
attack and destroy, a being who is invincible, un-
conquerable, subject to no storms, and under God
alone." At these words he is once more torn with
the creaking hooks, and the governor with crafty lips
hisses out at him a serpent's words : " If your stub-
born spirit makes your breast so thick-skinned and
hard that you abhor to touch our sacred couch " with
your hand, at least disclose your secret writings, your
hidden books, that the teaching which sows the
vicious seed may be burned with the fire it merits." 
But on hearing this the martyr replies: " In your
spite you threaten our mystic writings with fire, but
you yourself will burn with fire more merited, for the
sword of God will avenge our heaven-inspired books,
consuming with its lightning-flash the tongue that
gives expression to such venom. You see the glow-
ing embers that tell of Gomorrah's sins, and the
ashes of Sodom are a plain witness of everlasting
death. This is the pattern of you, serpent ; one day
sulphurous soot and mingled bitumen and pitch will
enwrap you deep in hell." Stricken with these
words the persecutor turns first pale, then red, and in
the heat of his passion rolls his eyes frantically this
way and that, gnashing his teeth and foaming at the
mouth. Then after hesitating long he gives com-
mand : " Let the last degree of torture be applied,
with fire and bed « and plates."

To these tasks Vincent hurries with quick step.
Joy gives him speed and he outstrips the very
ministers of torture. Now they have reached the
wrestling-ground where the prize is glory, where
hope contends with cruelty, and martyr and torturer
face each other and join in the critical struggle. A
spiked grid, its teeth wide-spaced, makes a cruel
bed, and on to it a great mass of coals exhales its
burning breath. Of his own accord the holy man
mounts this pyre with no fear in his look, just as if he
felt the crown already on his head and were going up
on to the judgment-seat on high. Salt sprinkled on
the fire crackles under him and darts out in hot sparks
which fasten themselves in hissing punctures here or
there over his body. Next a piece of fat is laid on a
glowing iron and runs melting over it so that the
potent liquid, smoking hot, falls drop by drop on his
frame. Amid all this he remains unmoved as if
feeling no pain, and lifts his eyes to heaven (for his
hands were kept down by the bonds). Then with
courage heightened he is taken up from the grid and
thrust into a doleful dungeon so that the free enjoy-
ment of light may not quicken his noble spirit.
Deep down within the prison is a place of blacker
darkness ; the narrow stonework of a subterranean
vault keeps it close-throttled, and there hidden
away lies everlasting night, never seeing the star
of day ; men say this gruesome prison has a Hades
of its own. Into this pit his fierce foe hurls the
martyr and sets his feet in the stocks with his legs
stretched wide apart. And being a skilled master
of the art of torture he adds a new kind of suffering,
not known to any oppressor before nor ever heard
of in time past : he gives order to strew broken pots,
rough, shapeless bits with jagged corners and sharp
points, for his back to lie on. Galling pains arm the
whole bed with pricks to keep striking on the body
from below with sharp points ever in the way, and give
it no repose. These devices the clever Datianus had
contrived with thought and cunning skill, but Christ
brings Beelzebub's artful inventions to naught. For
the blind darkness of the prison flashes with a
brilliant light and the two clamps of the stocks fly
apart, breaking the holes open. Hereupon Vincent
apprehends that the hoped-for prize of all his toil,
Christ the giver of light, is here with him. Then he
sees the bits of broken pottery clothe themselves
with tender flowers, while the prison exhales the
scent of nectar. And a great number of angels stand
and speak with him face to face, of whom one with
more majestic mien addresses him in these words:
" Arise, martyr renowned; arise, and have no con-
cern for thyself; arise and join our beneficent
companies as our fellow. To the full now hast thou
done thy part in enduring the menace of suffering,
and with a noble death to end it thy passion is all
finished. Most invincible of soldiers, bravest of the
brave, now the savage, cruel torments themselves
tremble before thee their conqueror. God the
Christ, who watched thee, makes up for them with
endless life, and with generous hand crowns thee as
the partner of his cross. Lay aside this mortal
vessel, a fabric of earthen structure which dissolves
and falls to pieces, and come in freedom to the skies."
So speaks the angel, and thereupon the splendour
within breaks through the closed doors, the piercing
brightness of the hidden light reveals itself through
the chinks. Amazed and frightened at this the
keeper of the dismal doorway, on whom was laid
the night-long task of watching that house of death,
hears also the passing-sweet song the martyr is
singing, while the hollow chamber returns an echo
like another voice singing in emulation. Then
tremblingly he looks within, as well as his eyes,
planted by the door-post, can penetrate through the
narrow slits where door and pivot join. He sees the
bed of potsherds blooming with many a flower, and
the martyr himself, his bonds torn away, walking
about as he sings. The news of this marvel rings in
the governor's ear and infuriates him. He weeps at
his defeat and with groans of vexation turns over
angry, resentful thoughts of his ignominy. " Take
him out of prison," he says, " and let him be restored
a little with beneficent applications, so that being
revived he may furnish food for suffering anew."

From the whole town a throng of the faithful might
be seen gathering, making a soft bed furnished with
supports, and wiping dry the bleeding wounds.
One covers with kisses the double cuts made by the
claws, another eagerly licks the red gore on the body.
Many wet a linen garment with the drops of blood, to
lay it up at home as a holy safeguard for their
descendants. Then even the jailer, the door-keeper
of the prison, as tells the old tradition of the time
which witnessed it, suddenly believed in Christ;
for while the bolts were shot he had seen the pitch-
dark dungeon flash with the brightness of the light
which, closed though it was, had entered into it.

But when the martyr found rest on his couch, being
weary at heart of the tedious delays and burning with
desire to die, — if we should think it death, which sets
the soul free from the prison of the body and restores
it to God its creator, the soul that has been purified
with blood and cleansed with the washing of death
and has given itself and its life as a sacrifice to Christ,
— as soon, then, as he has laid his head back on the
soft coverings of the bed, his victorious spirit leaves
the body behind and seeks the skies, and along the
heavenly path there is opened for it the straight
way to the Father, which the blessed Abel, when he
was slain by his unnatural brother, ascended before.
White-robed companies of the saints press round him
on his way, and John the Baptist calls one who has
been released from prison like himself.

But as for the enemy of the Christian name, the
poisons of his gall, having failed of their purpose,
were tormenting him, and their fury had burned up
his malignant heart. It was like the raging of a
serpent disarmed by the breaking of its fangs. " He
has escaped in triumph," he cries ; " refusing to
submit, he has carried off the victory. But still the
last resource remains, to punish him even in death,
to deliver his body to the wild beasts or give it to the
dogs to tear. Forthwith I shall utterly destroy even
his bones, so that his corpse shall have no grave for
the common herd to venerate and set on it a martyr's
epitaph." Thus raging he impiously exposed the
sacred body amid the sedge, — O frightful wicked-
ness ! — all covering for its nakedness denied. But
neither fell beast nor bird dared in its hunger to
pollute the memorial of glorious victory with its
unclean touch. And whenever one with ruthless
malice flew noisily round at a distance, it was driven
off by the attack of a fierce bird and fled away. For a
raven, the bird once assigned to Elijah to carry his
food, fulfilled this duty assiduously, keeping watch
and never leaving its post. From some bushes near
by it drove away a savage wolf, attacking it with noisy
wings and beating its eyes with its pinions. Who
of the infidels would make bold to believe that a
ravenous beast which would readily engage with
bulls gave ground before soft feathers ? It went off
growling spitefully, frightened away by the bird's
nimble flight, running from the prey before its eyes
under the menaces of an unwarlike guardian. What
were your feelings then, Datianus, when you heard
such news ? How sore were the piercing pricks of
hidden pain under which you groaned, when you saw
yourself beaten by the virtue that was in the body you
did to death, and were no match even for the bones,
and inferior to a frame now lifeless ? But, obstinate
oppressor, what issue will put an end to this un-
governed wrath ? Will no limit break you ? "None.
I shall never give up. For if savage beasts grow
tame and devouring ravens soft and gentle, I shall
plunge the corpse into the sea. The raging wave
never has mercy on the shipwrecked, the foaming
deep knows no forbearance. Either the wandering
winds will make it their random plaything there and
drive it about forever on the move and feeding the
scaly shoals, or at the foot of some rugged cliffs the
sharp, scurfy points of rock will rend and tear his
flesh on the stony beach of some inlet. Some man
of you who knows how to drive a boat briskly on
with oar and rope and canvas and can plough the
sea, take the body from the swampy grass where it
lies untouched, and in a swift wherry carry it away
over the wide waters ! But let the corpse be doubled
up and enclosed in a rope-bag with a stone tied to it
to sink it straight into the depths. Do you shoot out
swiftly over the waves with dripping oar-blade, till
the more distant view hide the land you have left

These behests one of the soldiers lays hold of with a
burning passion, his name Eumorphio, a wild,
audacious, savage man. He constructs a fabric of
rope and sews the body up in it, and after covering a
long course out to sea pitches it out amid the storms.
How exceeding mighty is the power of God, the
power that created all things and that once laid the
swelling sea while Christ walked on it, so that tread-
ing on the surface of the waters He went dry-foot
and did not wet his soles in the waves as He passed
over the monstrous deep ! It was this same power
that at an earlier time commanded the Red Sea to
part while the people fearlessly trod a dry path over
its exposed bed. And now too it bids the sea do
service to the holy body by gliding down with gentle
flow towards the curving shore. The stone as heavy
as a mill-stone floats as lightly as the white spray,
and the net-bag which keeps the precious pledge
rides on the waves. The boatmen in amazement see
it carried back over the sea, floating gently back-
wards with favouring tide and wind. They exert
themselves to speed the boat and cleave the water,
but the body flies far ahead of them towards the
gentle bosom of the land ; and so the peaceful earth
receives it back into its care before the vessel, though
driven with all their efforts, can reach its port.
Happy that pleasant-shored bay which cherished the
sacred flesh in its sands and served the turn of a
burial place, till the pious care of the saints with
many tears provided a mounded grave and com-
mitted the body thereto to keep it for the life to
come ! But later, when their enemies were subdued
and peace given back to the righteous, an altar
ensured to the blessed bones the rest that was their
due ; for laid under the sanctuary, buried at the foot
of the altar, they drink in the aura of the heavenly
offering, which is shed on them there below. Thus
the body ; but the martyr himself was received into
the dwelling-place of God, which holds him in com-
pany with the Maccabean brothers and beside
Esaias who was cut asunder.

Yet these won but a single crown for their suffer-
ings, since death brought their sorrows to a close
and ended all. Did he who cut Esaias asunder dare
any deed like this ? Did he throw the sections of
the body to the wild beasts after they were cut off
with the saw, or give them to the waves ? Did the
oppressor offer the Maccabean martyr's tongue to
bloodthirsty birds after it was plucked out, or the
skin of the head when it was torn off? Thou alone,
O twice renowned, thou alone hast won the glory of a
double prize, thou hast gained two laurels together.
Victorious in a cruel death, thou dost then after
death in like triumph trample victoriously on the
devil merely with thy body. Be with us now and
give ear to the voice of our entreaty as we pray, and
plead effectually for our sins before the Father's
throne. By thyself, by that prison which brought
enlargement of thy honour, by the bonds and flames
and claws, by the stocks in the prison, by the broken
pots which made greater still the glory thou hadst
gained, and the bed which we of later times kiss
fondly in awe, have pity on our prayers, so that
Christ being propitiated may incline a favourable
ear to his people and not lay all our sins to our charge.
If we duly reverence the day of thy festival with lips
and heart, if we bow down before thy relics rejoicing
in them, come down to us here for a little while
bringing the favour of Christ, that our burdened
souls may feel the relief of forgiveness. So may
there remain no long time ere thy noble spirit put on
again in resurrection the body which did deeds as
valorous as its own, that the body which shared the
struggles and bore the hazard in common may with it
inherit the glory too through all ages for ever and


Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð, unworthy though we are!

Anathema to the Union!

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