Victories of the Martyrs
Saint Alphonsus Maria de Ligouri, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Saint Basil of Ancyra, Priest
St. Basil was a priest of Ancyra, in Galatia, who during the reign of Constantius bravely defended the divinity of the Son of God against the Arians, and converted many from that heresy. Upon the death of Constantius, Julian the Apostate succeeded to the empire, and used all his energies for the re-establishment of idolatry, which at this time had been almost annihilated. St. Basil, on the other hand, struggled with all his might against this impious project, and ran through the entire city of Ancyra, exhorting the Christians to preserve themselves from apostasy, and to despise the promises of Julian, whom, he said, God would quickly remove. By this conduct he brought upon himself the hatred of the idolaters, who united with the Arians in persecuting him; but the saint was not to be deterred from defending the faith of Jesus Christ.
One day while some of the Gentiles were sacrificing to the gods, he prayed aloud that the Lord might confound them, in order that no Christians should be seduced by their example. The idolaters, upon hearing this prayer, became infuriated, and one of them, named Macarius, laying violent hands upon him, said: “Who art thou that darest to disturb the people, and to preach against the worship of the gods?” Basil replied:
“Not I, but the God of Heaven, with his invincible power, will destroy your false religion.” The heathens, more infuriated than ever, dragged him before Saturninus, the governor of the province, saying: “This man has been guilty of sedition, and threatens to overturn the altars of the gods.”
Saturninus, turning to him, said: “Who art thou that showest so much rashness?” Basil answered: “ I am a Christian, and glory in being so.” “If then thou art a Christian,” said Saturninus, “ why dost thou not act like a Christian?” Basil: “Thou art right; a Christian
ought to appear so in all his actions.” Saturninus: “ Why hast thou raised the people and blasphemed the emperor as the follower of a false religion?” Basil: “I blaspheme not the emperor nor his religion; but I say that in heaven there is a Ruler whom the Christians adore as the only true God, and who can in one moment destroy your false worship.” Saturninus: “What canst thou say against the religion of the emperor?” Basil was about to reply, but Saturninus interrupted him, saying: All reply is useless; thou must obey the emperor.” Basil: “I never yet have failed to obey the Emperor of Heaven.” Saturninus : “Who is this Emperor of Heaven ?” Basil: “He that dwelleth in heaven and beholdeth all things; while your emperor commands only upon earth, and is a man like the rest, who is shortly about to fall into the hands of the Great King.”
The governor, irritated at this answer, ordered that the saint should be suspended, and torn with iron hooks; but while Basil was returning thanks to God, he asked him whether he would sacrifice. The saint replied: “I have placed all my confidence in the King of kings; nor is it in the power of man to change me.” The tyrant, perceiving that the executioners had fatigued themselves, sent him to prison; and one Felix, a bad Christian, who met him by the way, advised him to obey the emperor, but our saint answered: “Depart from me, O impious wretch! enveloped as thou art in the darkness of sin, how canst thou see the light ?”
The Emperor Julian was at this time at Pessinunte, celebrating the festival of the goddess Cybele, who was said to be the mother of the gods. Here Saturninus in formed him of what had taken place regarding Basil. The apostate hearing that he possessed great influence, sent two other apostates, Elpidius and Pegasus, to gain him over. When the latter went to the prison to speak to him, the saint said: “Traitor! why hast thou renounced Jesus Christ and thy hopes of salvation? After having been cleansed in the waters of baptism, how couldst thou stain thyself with idolatry?- after having been fed with the flesh of Jesus Christ, how canst thou sit at a feast of demons ? Thou wert the disciple of truth, and art now become a master of perdition, to the eternal loss of thy own soul. What wilt thou do when the Lord shall come to judge thee ?” Then raising his eyes to heaven, he exclaimed : “Vouchsafe, O Lord, to deliver me from the snares of the devil.” Pegasus, covered with confusion, related the affair to Elpidius and they both proceeded to inform the governor, who again caused Basil to be put to torture. When the saint was placed upon the rack, he said:“ Impious tyrant, thou mayst exercise all thy cruelty, but so long as Jesus Christ is with me, I never will change.”
The emperor, having arrived at Ancyra, summoned the martyr before him, and inquired his name. The saint replied: “I am a Christian. This is my principal name; but I am generally called Basil. Now, if I shall have preserved the name of a Christian without blemish, Jesus Christ will reward me, on the day of judgment, with an eternal glory.” Julian: “Do not thus miserably deceive thyself, continuing to believe in him that was put to death under Pontius Pilate.” Basil: “ No. emperor; I am not deceived, but thou hast deceived thyself, who by thy apostasy hast forfeited thy right to heaven. I continue to believe in Jesus Christ, whom thou hast renounced, although he placed thee upon a throne; he will, however, quickly hurl thee thence, that thou mayest know the power of the God whom thou hast despised.” Julian: “Madman, thou art raving; it shall not befall me as thou wouldst.” Basil: “Thou hast forgotten Jesus Christ, and he shall never again remember thee in his mercy. He that is the Emperor of all shall despoil thee of the authority thou hast, and cause thee to expire in agony; nor shall thy body find burial.” This prediction was shortly afterwards fulfilled.
Julian, infuriated at the martyr s speech, said: “I had designed to discharge thee unmolested; but, since thy temerity hath gone so far as to reproach me, I now command that there be torn, every day, from off thy body, seven pieces of flesh.” This barbarous command was quickly put into execution by the Count Frumentinus, to whom the charge was given. Our saint endured it with great fortitude; and, when he had been entirely lacerated, he desired to speak with the emperor. The count, believing that he was induced by the torture to sacrifice to the gods, made known his desire to Julian, who commanded him to be brought to the temple of Esculapius. Upon being presented to the emperor in the temple, the saint said: “ Where, sir, are the persons who are wont to accompany thee? Have they not foretold to thee the motive of this my visit ?” Julian: “I suppose thou hast returned to thy senses, and art willing to adore the majesty of the gods.” Basil: “ Not so; I have come to make thee know that thy gods are but blind and deaf statues, the worshipping of which is punished in hell.” Then taking a piece of his torn flesh, he cast it in the emperor s face, saying: “Take this, O Julian, since such food pleaseth thee. To me death is a gain, and Jesus is my life and my strength; in him I believe, and for his sake I am willing to suffer.”
The Christians looked with satisfaction upon the constancy of Basil, and the glorious testimony he had given to the faith; but equal to their joy was the fury of Frumentinus at his disappointment. He therefore ordered the executioners to tear the saint with irons, until his bones and bowels should be laid bare. During the infliction of this sentence the holy martyr prayed thus: Be Thou forever blessed, O Lord, who giveth strength unto the weak that put their trust in Thee. Mercifully vouchsafe to look upon me, and grant me the grace faithfully to consummate my sacrifice, that I may be made worthy of thy eternal kingdom.”
On the following day the emperor departed from Ancyra without granting an audience to Frumentinus, who, having summoned Basil before him, exclaimed: “O! thou most rash and obdurate of mortals! wilt thou at last yield to the emperor, or terminate thy days amid the most excruciating torture?” Basil replied: “Dost thou not recollect to what state thou didst reduce my body yesterday, when its mangled appearance drew tears from all who beheld it? Now it hath pleased Jesus Christ lo heal me, as thou seest. Make this known to thy emperor, in order that he may understand the power of that God whom he hath abandoned to become the slave of the devil; but God also will abandon him, and he shall die in his sins.” Frumentinus replied: “Thou art mad; but if thou wilt not sacrifice, I shall cause thy entire body to be pierced with red-hot spikes.” The saint answered: “I have not been afraid, as thou knowest, of the threats of the emperor; think now whether thy words can strike me with terror.”
Although Frumentinus was aware that the constancy of Basil was not to be overcome, he nevertheless caused the irons to be heated, and the saint s shoulders to be pierced through. During this most agonizing torture, the saint prayed thus: “I thank Thee, O Lord, my God, who hast delivered my soul from hell. Preserve Thy blessed spirit within me, in order that, having overcome these torments, I may offer to Thee the sacrifice of my life, and become an heir to everlasting bliss, through the promises of our Lord Jesus Christ; by whose merits I beseech Thee to receive my soul in peace, since I have continued to the end to confess Thy name, who livest and reignest, world without end. Amen.” Having finished this prayer, the saint, as though falling into a sweet sleep, in the midst of his tortures placidly rendered his soul to God, on the 28th of June, in the year 362. The Acts of his martyrdom are found in Ruinart.