Open main menu

Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 2.djvu/421

This page needs to be proofread.


BEATIFICATION


365


BEATIFICATION


of the martyrs. Let one instance suffice. In the circular epistle of the Church of Smyrna (Eus., Hist. Eccl., IV, xxiii) we find mention of the religious cele- bration of the day on which St. Polycarp suffered martyrdom (23 February, 155); and the words of the passage exactly express the main purpose which the Church has in the celebration of such anniver- saries: "We have at la.st gathered his bones, which are dearer to us than priceless gems and purer than gold, and laid them to rest where it was befitting they should lie. And if it be possible for us to as- semble again, may God grant us to celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom with gladness, thus to recall the memorj' of those who fought in the glorious combat, and to teach and strengthen, by his example, those who shall come after us." This anniversary celebration and veneration of the martyrs was a service of thanksgiving and congratulation, a token and an evidence of the joy of those who engaged in it (Muratori, de Paradiso, x), and its general diffusion explains why Tertullian, though asserting with the Chiliasts that the departed just would ob- tain eternal glory only after the general resurrection of the body, admitted an exception for the martyrs (de Resurrectione Carnis, xliii).

It must be obviou.s, however, that, while private moral certainty of their sanctity and possession of heavenly glory may suffice for private veneration of the saints, it cannot suffice for public and common acts of that kind. No member of a social body may, independently of its authority, perform an act proper to that body. It follows naturally that for the public veneration of the saints the ecclesiastical authority of the pastors and rulers of the Church was constantly re- quired. The Church had at heart , indeed, the honoiu- of the martyrs, but she did not therefore grant liturgical honours indiscriminately to all those who had died for the Faith. St. Optatus of Mileve, writ- ing at the end of the fourth ccntuiy, tells us (De Schism. Donat., I, xvi, in P. L., XI, 916-917) of a certain noble lady, Lucilla, who was reprehended by Ccecilianus, Archdeacon of Carthage, for having kissed before Holy Communion the bones of one who either was not a martyr or whose right to the title was unproved. The decision as to the martyr having died for his faith in Christ, and the consequent per- mission of worship, lay originally with the bishop of the place in which he had borne his testimony. The bishop inquired into the motive of his death and, finding he had died a martyr, sent his name with an account of his martjTdom to other churches, es- pecially neighbouring ones, so that, in the event of approval by their respective bishops, the cultus of the martyr might extend to their churches also, and that the faithful, as we read of St. Ignatius in the "Acts" of his martyrdom (Ruinart, Acta Sincera Martyrum, 19), "might hold communion with the generous martyr of Christ" (generoso Christi martyri communicarcnt). Martyrs whose cause, so to speak, had been discussed, and the fame of whose martyr- dom had been confirmed, were known as proved {vindicati) martyrs. As far as the word is concerned it may probably not antedate the fourth century, when it was introduced in the Church of Carthage; but the fact is certainly older. In the earlier ages, therefore, this worship of the saints was entirely local and passed from one church to another with the permission of their bishops. This is clear from the fact that in none of the ancient Christian cemeteries are there found paintings of martjTs other than those who had suffered in that neighbourhood. It ex- plains, also, the almost universal veneration very <iuickly paid to some martjTs, e. g. St. LawTence, St. Cj'prian of Carthage, Pope St. Sixtus of. Rome [Duchesne, Origines du culte chr^tien (Paris, 1903), 284]. The worship of confessors ā€” of those, that is, who


died peacefully after a life of heroic virtue ā€” is not as ancient as that of the martyrs. The word itself takes on a different meaning after the early Christian periods. In the beginning it was given to those who confessed Christ when examined in the presence of enemies of the Faith (Baronius, in his notes to Ro. Mart., 2 Januaij, D), or, as Benedict XIV explains (op. cit., II, c. ii, n. 6), to those who died peacefully after having confessed the Faith before tyrants or other enemies of the Christian religion, and under- gone tortures or suffered other punishments of what- ever nature. Later on, confessors were those who had lived a holy life and closed it by a holy death in Christian peace. It is in this sense that we now treat of the worship paid to confessors.

It was in the fourth century, as is commonly held, that confessors were first given public ecclesiastical honour, though occasionally praised in ardent terms by earlier Fathers, and though an abundant reward (multiplex corona) is declared by St. Cyprian to be theirs (De Zelo et Livore, col. 509; cf. Innoc. Ill, De Myst. Miss., Ill, x; Benedict XIV, op. cit., I, V, nĀ° 3 .sqq; Bellarmine, De Missa, II, xx, n" 5). Still Bellarmine thinks it uncertain when confess- ors began to be objects of cultus, and asserts that it was not before 800, when the feasts of Sts. Martin and Remigius are found in the catalogue of feasts dra\\'n up by the Council of Mainz. This opinion of Innocent III and Benedict XIV is confirmed by the implicit approval of St. Gregorj' the Great (Dial., I, xiv, and III, xv) and by well attested facts: in the East, for example, Hilarion (Sozomen, III, xiv, and VIII, xix), Ephrem (Greg. Nyss.. Orat. in laud. S. Ephrem), and other confessors were publicly hon- oured in the fourth century; and, in the West, St. Martin of Tours, as is gathered plainly from the oldest Breviaries and the Mozarabic Missal (Bona, Rer. Lit., II, xii, n" 3), and St. Hilary of Poitiers, as can be shown from the very ancient Mass-book known as "Missale Francorum" (Thomassin, "Traits des fetes de I'^glise", in the second volume of his "Trait^s historiques et dogmatiques", Paris, 1683), were ob- jects of a like cultus in the same century (Martigny, Dictionnaire des antiquitfe chretiennes, s. v. Confess- eurs). The reason of this veneration lies, doubtless, in the resemblance of the confessors' self-denying and heroically virtuous lives to the sufferings of the martyrs; such lives could truly be called prolonged martyrdoms. Naturally, therefore, such honour was first paid to ascetics (Duchesne, op. cit., 284) and only afterwards to those who resembled in their lives the very penitential and extraordinary ex- istence of the ascetics. So true is this that the con- fessors themselves are frequently called martyrs. St. Gregory Nazianzen calls St. Basil a martyr (Orat. de laud., P. L., XXXVI, 602); St. Chrysostom ap- plies the same title to Eustachius of Antioch (0pp. II, 606); St. Paulinus of Nola writes of St. Felix of Nola that he won heavenly honours, sine sanguine martyr ("a bloodless martyr" ā€” Poem., XIV, Carm. Ill, V, 4); St. Gregory the Great styles Zeno of Verona a martyr (Dial. Ill, xix), and Metronius gives to St. RoteriiLS (Acta SS., II, May 11, 306) the same title. Later on, the names of confessors were inserted in the diptychs, and due reverence was paid them. Their tombs were honoured (Martigny, loc. cit.) with the same title (martyria) as tho.se of the martyrs. It remained true, however, at all times that it was unlawful to venerate confessors without permission of the ecclesiastical authority as it had been so to venerate martyrs (Bened. XIV, loc. cit., vi).

We have seen that for several centuries the bishops, in some places only the primates and patriarchs (August., Brevic. CoUat. cum Donatistis, III, xiii, n*" 25 in P. L., XLIII, 628), could grant to martyrs and confessors public ecclesiastical honour; such honour, however, was always decreed only for the local