Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Martyrology

At Pozzuoli in the Campania, the holy martyrs Januarius, bishop of Benevento, Festus and Proculus, his deacons, and Desiderius, Eutychius, and Acutius, who after chains and prison were beheaded in the city of Pozzuoli under the Emperor Diocletian. The body of S.Januarius was borne to Naples and buried with honour in the Church.

In the country of Langres, S.Sequanus, a most righteous priest.

At Nocera, the birthday of the holy martyrs Felix and Constantia, who suffered under Nero.

In Palestine, the holy martyrs Peleus and Nilus, bishops, who, in the time of persecution, were together with many others of the clergy burned to death.

At Synnadis in Phyrgia, SS. Trophimus, and  Dorymedon, martyrs.

At Tours, S. Eustochius, a bishop and man of great virtue.

On the same day, the anniversary of the Dedication of the Church of S.Mary LaBussiere, which was consecrated by S.Peter, bishop of Tarentaise.

And elsewhere, many other holy martyrs and confessors and holy virgins.

Page from a 9th Century Martyrology (source).
The passage above is the reading from the Martyrology for September 19.  I have meant to write about the Martyrlolgy for some time. I frequently bring up snippets of the Menology, the great book of the church’s also-rans, but I have yet to say anything of the Martyrology, hagiography’s main event.

Each day, the reading tells of the saints of the day and gives a few details from their lives and, usually, their deaths. There are the biblical figures, including the feast days of the prophets. There are the early martyrs, whose persecution, torture, and perseverance get their full due. There are all of those wonderful medieval figures who range from mystics to scholastics. And finally, in the case of the Cistercian Martyrlolgy, which I still read both because I have it and from affection, more than 200 of the saints and blessed of the Order and the dedication of significant churches.

Along with the Divine Office, the martyrology is one more thing that grounds the Christian life. It both places us outside time and puts time into perspective, balancing the present, which  is too much with us, against the full history of the church militant. It reminds us what Christian life can cost, but also what it can be at its best. Some days, it simply puts irritation about the trash not being taken out into proper scale when compared with being beaten with lead whips, beheading, and being cast into the sea.

The news of the day will come and go. Laxity and excess zeal will reach the mean when brought into step with the flow of Christian history. Whatever we see today will pass, and probably more amiably than did the trials of previous generations. There is little chance that the Governor of Arkansas will send lackeys will slice off anyone in Fayetteville’s head or that I will find myself weighted down with chains and thrown into the White River, which is pretty shallow up here anyway, but there is a good chance that a given person on a given day may need to be reminded who is on his team in heaven who can be called up from the bench to intercede in the bottoms of life’s ninths.