The Liturgical Year
Dom Prosper Guearanger, O.S.B.
Time After Pentecost – Book III
Saints Marcellinus, Peter, and Elmo
The glory of martyrdom illumines this day with a profusion rarely met with in the cycle; and already we seem to descry the rosy dawn of that brightest day of this month, on which Peter and Paul will consummate in their blood their own splendid confession. Italy and Gaul, Rome and Lyons concur in forming a legion of heroes in the service of heaven. For today Lyons, the illustrious daughter of Rome, is keeping the special festival of a whole phalanx of warriors, headed by the veteran chief, St Pothinus, disciple of St Polycarp, who, in the second century, levied the brave recruits of his battalion on the banks of the Rhone. But to the mother Church are due the first honours. Let us, then, hail Marcellinus, together with the numerous progeny begotten by his fruitful priesthood, and rendered worthy by the Holy Ghost to share in his triumph. Let us hail, likewise, the exorcist, Peter, leading to the sacred font a long line of pagans whom he won over to Christ by proving to them the weakness of the demons.
When Christianity appeared on earth, Satan was indeed, and visibly so, the Prince of this world. Unto him was every altar reared; to his empire were all laws and customs subservient. From the depths of their famous temples, the demon chiefs directed the political affairs of the cities that came to consult their oracles; under divers names, the frailest of the fallen angels found honour and influence, at the domestic hearth; others had posts assigned to them, in forests, on mountains, at fountains, or on sea, occupying, in opposition to God, this world that had been created by him for his Glory, but which Satan, through man’s complicity, had conquered. Four thousand years of abandonment on the part of Heaven, permitted the usurper to consolidate his conquest; and a well planned resistance was skillfully prepared, against the day wherein the lawful King should offer to re-enter on his rights.
The coming of the Word made Flesh, was the grand signal for the asserting of the divine claim. The prince of this world, personally vanquished by the Son of God, understood well enough that he must needs return to the depths of hell. But the countless powers of darkness constituted by him, would maintain the struggle, through the length of ages, and dispute their position inch by inch. Driven from towns by the abjurations of holy Church and the triumph of martyrs, the infernal legions would fain marshall their ranks in the wilderness; there under the leadership of an Anthony or a Pachomius, the soldiers of Christ must wage against them ceaseless and terrific battle. In the West, Benedict, the Patriarch of Monks, in his turn, meets with altars to the demons, yea, with demons themselves on the heights of Cassino, as late as the sixth century. Even in the seventh, they are found contending against St. Gall, for hold on the woods, lakes, and rocks of what we now call Switzerland; and at last they are heard uttering mournful complaint, because, driven as they have been from the haunts of men, even such desolate spots as these are denied them. Verily, in the divine mind, the vocation of a monk to the desert, has for its end, not alone flight of the world and its concerns, but likewise, the pursuit of demons into their last entrenchments.
We have dwelt thus upon the foregoing considerations, because their importance is extreme, and is equalled only by depth of systematic ignorance persisted in, on this subject. True Christians of course firmly believe, now as formerly, in the secret and wholly spiritual combat which the soul has to sustain against hell, in the privacy of one’s own conscience; but too many have no scruple in rejecting, as if belonging to the domain of imagination, whatever is related of those other combats maintained, by our fathers, against the demons, in an exterior and more public manner. The excuse for such Christians is no doubt, in the fact that they live in a land, where, centuries ago, this war in its external phases, was ended by the social victory of Christendom. But the Holy Ghost has declared that the old serpent, bound up for a thousand years, is at last to be again unchained for a while.1 If, perchance, we be nearing this fatal epoch, it is high time to look about us; ill prepared shall we be for the waging again of the olden battles, by such ignorance as ours, in which we are maintained by that habit of abandoning, to the conceited impertinence of the shallow science that rules the day, facts, (under the name of legend,) the best attested in the history of our ancestors. After all, what is History, even, since the revolt of Lucifer, but the picture of the war that is being waged between God and Satan? Now if, as we have said, Satan has, by divine permission, invaded the exterior world, as well as that of souls, must it not be needful, in order, (as our Lord expresses it) to cast him out, (John, xii. M. 2) that the struggle with him be breast to breast and foot to foot, inasmuch as it has assumed an exterior and visible character?
“The Word,” says Saint Justin, ” was made Flesh “for two ends: to save believers, and to drive away “demons.” (Apol. vi.) So also, the expulsion of demons from the places they occupy in this material world, and specially the bodies of men, the noblest part thereof, would appear in the Gospel, to have been one of the chief characteristics of our Saviour’s power. Again, when on quitting the earth, He sent his Apostles to continue His work amidst the Nations, this is the very thing He singles out as a primary sign of the mission they are to fulfil. (Mk, 16:17) The world of that day made no mistake about it. Soon enough had the pagans to state the cessation of the ancient oracles, in every place; (Plutarch, De oraculor. Defectu) the cause of a phenomenon of such import to the ancient religion was evident to all: the very demons themselves were not backward in ascribing to the Christian, this their enforced silence. As regards this power of Christianity against hell, the Apologists of the second and third centuries, appeal, on the subject, to public testimony, without fear of a contradicting voice. “Before the eyes of everyone,” says Saint Justin to the Emperors, “the Christians drive “out demons in the Name of Jesus Christ, not “only in Rome, but in the whole universe.” (2 Apol. vi.) The gods of Olympus beheld themselves shamefully unmasked, in the presence of their confused adorers, and Tertullian might well challenge thus the magistrates of the Empire: “Let one of those men, who declare themselves to be under the power of the gods be brought before your tribunals: at the commanding word of the first comer amongst us, the spirit whereby they are possessed, will be constrained to confess what he is ; if he avow not himself a demon and no god, fearing to lie unto a Christian, at once shed the blood of this Christian blasphemer. But no; the terror they have of Christ is the reason why the mere touch, or even breathing of one of his servants, forces them to take to flight.” (Apol. 23)
So then, we see, Baptism sufficed to give unto man such power as this; and verily this was the real meaning of our Lord’s promise, when speaking of those who would believe in Him, and not alone of the heads of the Church, He said: In my name they shall cast out devils. (Mk 16:17) At an early date, however, the Church organising the holy war, constituted among her sons one special Order having for its direct mission the pursuit of Satan, on every point of this visible world. The Exorcists were by this delegation, invested with a power that must needs accelerate the downfall of the prince of this world; and, what would be all the more odious and humiliating in this defeat, the Church raised no higher than to the rank of inferior clergy, an order so terrible to hell. Lucifer had aimed at being equal to the Most-High; (Is 14:12-15) hurled down from heaven, he at least flattered himself in his folly to be able to supplant God upon the earth: and lo! the charge of defeating him here, is confided not to angels, his equals by nature, but to men, yea, to the least and lowest of this race so easily tricked, that for long ages he had seen men prostrate before him! Lo ! the hand of flesh constrains him, spirit though he be, to come off his throne; at their word he must needs cast away his vain adornments, he must unmask himself; the water they bless, rekindles within him his eternal tortures; of the prince of this world and his pomps, naught remains but mere Satan, the ugly faced apostate, the condemned criminal wincing in the dust, at the feet of the sons of men, or fleeing like a dry leaf, at the breath of their mouth.
The archangel Michael recognizes in these sons of Adam, the worthy allies of the faithful angels he led forward to victory. But amid these continuators of the mighty battle begun on the heights of heaven,1 the Exorcist, Peter, comes before us to-day radiant with matchless splendour. The triumph of martyrdom has been added to his victories, won over Satan’s cohorts. None better than he, drove hell backwards; for, chasing the demons out of men’s bodies, he moreover made conquest of their souls. The Priest Marcellinus, his companion in martyrdom, as he had been in victory, is likewise his associate in glory. The Church wishes that these two names of theirs so redoubtable to the spirits of darkness, should shine in one same aureola here below as in heaven. Daily doth she render them the most solemn homage in her power by naming them both, on the dyptich of the Holy Sacrifice together with the Apostles and her first song. Such was the importance of the mission they fulfilled and the renown of their final combat, that their bodies, translated to the Via Latina, became the nucleus of an illustrious cemetery. The Christians of the age of peace, that came soon after their glorious confession, vied with one another in obtaining sepulture near these soldiers of Christ whose protection they craved; Constantine the Great, the vanquisher of Idolatry, deposited at their sacred feet, the remains of his mother, Saint Helena, who had herself become a terror to the demons by her discovering the True Cross. A celebrated inscription was composed in their honour, by Saint Damasus, who in childhood, had learned the details of their martyrdom, from the very executioner himself, afterwards converted; this inscription hard by their tomb, completed the monuments of that catacomb, wherein Christian art had multiplied its richest teachings.
To the memory of Saints Marcellinus and Peter, is joined in the Liturgy of to-day, the name of a holy Bishop and Martyr, formerly well known to the Faithful. If the Acts of his life that have reached us, are not free from all reproach in a critical point of view, the favours obtained by the intercession of this Saint Erasmus or Elmo, wafted his name over the whole of Christendom, as is attested by the numberless forms this name assumed, in various countries of the West during the Middle Ages. He holds a place in the group of Saints styled auxiliatores or Helpers, whose cultus is wide spread in Germany and Italy more particularly. Mariners look upon him as their patron, because of a certain miraculous voyage related in his life; one of the tortures to which he was subjected during his Martyrdom, has made him be invoked for the cholic. Nor should we forget to mention here, how great a veneration Saint Benedict, the Patriarch of Western Monks, had for Saint Erasmus; when he quitted the Campagna for his solitude on the banks of the Anio, he marked his principal station between Subiaco and Monte Cassino, by building a church and monastery, at Veroli, under the invocation of this holy Martyr; another was dedicated by him in Rome likewise, to St. Erasmus.
Let us now read the few lines devoted by the Church to the memory of our three Saints:
Peter, an Exorcist, was cast into prison at Rome, under the Emperor Diocletian, by the Judge Serenus, because he confessed the Christian faith. He there set free Paulina, the daughter of Artemius, the keeper of the prison, from an evil spirit which tormented her. Upon this, Artemis and his wife and all their house, with their neighbours who had run together to see the strange thing, would fain be attached unto the service of Jesus Christ. Peter therefore brought them to Marcellinus, the Priest, who baptised them all. When Serenus heard of it, he called Peter and Marcellinus before him, aud sharply rebuked them, adding to his bitter words, threats and terrors, unless they would deny Christ. Marcellinus answered him with Christian boldness, whereupon he caused him to be buffeted, separated him from Peter, and shut him up naked, in a prison strewn with broken glass, without either food or light. Peter also’he straitly confined. But when both of them were found but to increase in faith and courage, in their bonds, they were beheaded, unshaken in their testimony, and confessing Jesus Christ gloriously, by their blood.
Erasmus Bishop was, in Campania, under the empire of Diocletian and Maximian, beaten with clubs and whips loaded with lead, and afterwards plunged into resin, sulphur, melted lead, boiling pitch, wax also and oil. From all this, he came forth whole and sound; which wonder converted many to believe in Christ. He was remanded again to prison, and straitly bound in iron fetters. But from these he was wondrously delivered by an Angel. At last, being taken to Formi, Maximian caused him to be subjected to divers torments, and, in the end, being clad in a coat of red-hot brass, the power of God made him be more than conqueror in all these things also. Afterwards, having converted to the faith and confirmed many therein, he obtained the palm of a glorious martyrdom.
You three holy Martyrs did all confess Jesus Christ, in the midst of the most terrific storm ever raised by the demon against the Churoh. Though all three in different grades of the hierarchy, you were alike guides of the Christian people, drawing them by thousands, in your train, into the arena of martyrdom, and by still more numerous conversions, filling up the void made in earth’s chosen band, by the departure of your victorious companions to heaven. Wherefore, the Church, this day, joins her grateful homage, here below, with the silvery shouts of glad congratulation that ring through the Church triumphant. Be ye propitious, as of yore, in alleviating the ills that overwhelm mankind in this vale of tears. The excess of man’s misery, is that he seems to have forgotten how to call on such powerful protectors, in his hour of need. Revive your memory, in our midst, by new benefits to our race.
As thou, O Erasmus, must formerly protected by heaven, do thou now, in thy turn, succour those who are a prey to the tempest-tossed sea. In thy last hour of bitter anguish, thou didst suffer thine executioners to tear thy very bowels; lend then a kindly aid to such as call upon thy name when racked by pains which bear some resemblance, though but faint, to what thou didst endure for Christ.
Peter and Marcellinus, linked one to another both in toil and in glory, cast gentle eyes upon us: one glance of yours would make all hell to tremble,— would drive far from us its darksome cohorts. But how much is your aid needed in society at large,—in the whole visible world! The foe you did so mightily thrust backwards into the fiery pit, is once more master. Alas! have we come to the time, in which again taking up war against the Saints, it shall be granted him to overcome them? Scarce does he even hide himself, now-a-days. Not only does he lead the world by a thousand springs ostensibly put in his hands by Societies formerly Secret; but he may be seen trying to push his way into gatherings of all sorts, into the very bosom of homes, as a family guest, as a comrade in diversion or in business, with table turning and all those processes for divination such as Tertullian denounced in your early day. The expulsion of demons by Christianity had been so absolute that up to more recent times, such fatal practices had fallen into utter oblivion amongst us. If at first, in Christian families, the warning voice of the Pastors of God’s Church has prevailed over the incitements of an unhealthy curiosity, still a sect has since been formed, in which Satan is sole guide and oracle. The Spiritists, as they are called, in concert with free-masonry, are preparing the way for the final invasion of the exterior world, by infernal bands. Antichrist, with his usurped power and vain prestige, will be but the common product of political lodges and of this sect, wherein the task is proposed of bringing back, under a new form, the ancient mysteries of paganism. Valiant Soldiers of the Church, make us, we beseech you, worthy of our forefathers. If the Christian army must needs decrease in numbers, let faith all the more wax strong therein; let courage neither lack nor go astray; may its ranks be seen facing the foe, at that last hour in which the Lord Jesus will slay, with the breath of His Mouth, the man of sin, and plunge once again and forever, the whole of Satan’s crew, down into the lowest depths of the bottomless pit.