The Roman General— St. Eustachius – continued.
Feast Day: September 20th.
The Romans were from the very birth of their dynasty a brave and warlike people; the heroes who led them on to battle and conquest were men of consummate skill and intelligence, and are justly immortalised on the pages of history. In ancient times the art of warfare was rude and undeveloped, and the whole existence of an army depended upon the skill of its general. He had to direct where there was no order, no intelligence, no judgment, save that which flashed from his own superior mind; he moved the mighty machine of brutal and living force as he willed; the roughest and wildest spirits were cemented together into the irresistible phalanx by one element alone, it was confidence in their leader; his skill was more to the army than numbers, position, or courage. Thus it was that Caesar, one of the greatest warriors of the past, said he feared more the general without an army than an army without a general. Eustachius or Placidus (by which name he was more generally known) was one of the great generals of the Roman army at the commencement of the second century.
His influence and name were as great amongst the soldiers on account of his virtues as for his triumphs and military skill. He was admired by all for his mildness, love of justice and charity. He was the father of his soldiers, and treated them with leniency and justice; virtues unknown to the barbarian soldier, but loved the moment their benign influence was felt. He was generous and charitable to the unfortunate, and although a pagan, he was eminently chaste. True greatness is incompatible with the indulgence of the brutal propensities of man. The virtues and exalted position of Placidus rendered him the most conspicuous man of the time, like the solitary star shining through the dark masses of cloud on a stormy night. No wonder he was signalled out by Providence as the object of special grace and the instrument of great wonders, for Almighty God loves virtue and order, although practised by an infidel, and He never fails to reward it in due time.
A soldier offered alms to St. Francis. In recompense for this act of charity, Almighty God revealed to the Saint the soldier’s approaching death. Francis gave him the prophetic warning, and prepared him for a happy end. Perhaps it was charity, some silent act of benevolence in the life of Placidus that brought down from heaven the great grace of conversion and made him a vessel of election. This seems even more probable from the words addressed to him by our Blessed Lord Himself, at the moment of his call to Christianity.
One day Placidus went out according to his custom to hunt. He proceeded with some officers of the cavalry division over which he had the command, to the brow of the Sabine hills, and fell in with a troop of beautiful stags. Amongst them there was one larger and more beautiful than the rest, and Placidus immediately pursued it with all the ardour of the chase. In the excitement, which huntsmen alone know, he was soon separated from his companions, and passed over hills and rapid rivers and on the edges of the most terrible precipices. He knew no danger; he was not accustomed to defeat; on he went, over mountains and through valleys, until he came up with his magnificent prize in a wild and lonely ravine, not far from the spot where now stands the picturesque village of Guadagnolo. This was the moment and place in which the providence of God destined to illumine the mind of the great general with the light of Christianity. The stag stood on the ledge of a rock just over him, and between its beautiful and branching horns there was a dazzling light; in the midst of an aureola of splendour he saw an image of the crucifixion. Struck with wonder and amazement, he heard a voice saying to him, “Placidus, why dost thou follow Me? Behold I have taken this form to speak to thee; I am the Christ, whom thou servest without knowing. Thy charity and deeds of benevolence to the poor have stood before Me, and have made Me follow thee with My mercy. The just man, dear to me on account of his works, must not serve devils and false gods, who cannot give life or reward.”
Placidus dismounted in terror and confusion. He could not remove his eyes from the beautiful vision that shone more brilliantly than the sun between the horns of the stag, and although he heard he did not understand the voice that spoke to him. At length gaining courage, he cried out in an excited and tremulous tone—
“What voice is this? Who speaks? reveal Thyself that I may know Thee.”
Again the heavenly sounds fell on his ears, and he heard these words:
“I am Jesus Christ, who created heaven and earth out of nothing, who threw all matter into shape, and made the light spring from the chaos of darkness. I am He who created the moon and the stars, and caused the day and the night; who created man from the slime of the earth, and for his redemption appeared in human flesh, was crucified, and rose the third day from the dead. Go, Placidus, to the city, and seek the chief pastor of the Christians and be baptized.”
A ray—the last ray of the brilliant light which had dazzled his eyes, had entered his heart, and he understood all. He remained for hours on his knees, in his first warm and grateful prayer to the true God. When he awoke from his deep reverie of adoration and prayer, he found all was dark and silent. The sun had disappeared behind the mountains, and his faithful and wearied horse and dog slept beside him. He rose, like the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus, with the courage of a lion, to proclaim the truth of the Christian religion, and the wonderful mercy of God. He roused his horse, and returned slowly through the bleak passes of the mountain towards the city.
In the meantime, alarms for the safety of Placidus were increasing at his residence in the city. He was gifted with a noble and amiable spouse; their union had been strengthened by long years of peace. In the similar and moral tendencies of their virtuous souls their home presented a scene of domestic bliss rarely found in pagan circles. The unusual absence of the general gave her immense anxiety; all night she sat up watching for his well-known tread on the threshold, but the grey dawn was breaking on the horizon and still no sign of Placidus.
Starting from the momentary repose of a delusive dream she found her slave awaiting returning consciousness to deliver a message.
“Most noble lady, Rufus, who had accompanied the general this morning to the hunt, has returned and prays an audience.”
“Quick, quick, Sylvia, bring him to my presence.”
She sprung from her seat, met the veteran soldier at the door, and trembling with excitement, she addressed him:—
“Say Rufus, knowest thou aught of the general; thou wert ever a true soldier, and kept by his side in the darkest hour, how came you separated from him? Speak, I fear thy silence.”
The veteran leaned on his halbert; after a moment’s pause, he spoke in a deep, solemn voice.
“Noble lady, I am loath to fan thy misgivings to darker anticipations of ill, but we fear for the safety of the general.”
“I conjure thee, Rufus, tell me all,” she cried frantically, “has his trusty steed fallen and cast him down the awful precipice, have ravenous wolves fed on his mangled corpse?”
“None of these calamities, noble lady, have befallen our brave commander,” interrupted Rufus. “We believe he has but lost his way in the mountains, and shall be here before noon. This morning I was by his side when a large stag started from the copse; the dogs gave chase, and our steeds flew over the rugged mountain side. The stag was the largest ever seen in these hills, and the chase the fleetest ever run. Our inferior horses soon fell back, and we saw the glittering helmet of our commander rushing like a ball of fire through the woods; he was soon lost from our sight near the ravines of Marino. We halted under the shade of a figtree, hoping each moment to see our gallant commander return with the spoils of his brilliant chase. The hours passed slowly on; anxiously we listened for the echoes of his horn; no dog returned with blood-stained mouth to tell of victory; each moment of anxiety made the hammer of life beat with a heavier throb. We searched the mountain side, and called louder and louder the name of our general; there was no response save the mournful echoes that broke the stillness of the olive groves. Trembling for his safety, I hurried back to headquarters to ask a detachment of horse to scour the mountain. Behold, noble lady, how I am separated from the general. The life stream of my heart’s blood is not dearer than the safety of thy lord—Rufus shall serve under no other commander but Placidus.”
Whilst Rufus was yet speaking a bustle was heard out-side, and some excited slaves rushed in, announcing the general had come. Wearied and covered with dust, he dismounted. In silence he embraced his wife, and having made a sign for all to leave the room, he addressed his spouse.
“Stella, I have a strange tale to tell thee. Thou knowest the terrors of war and the crash of empires have ever been my ambition and my joy. Heretofore I feared nothing, and I knew no God but my sword, but since last I sat under the shadow of these ancestral towers and the beams of thy loving smile, a change has come over my dream of ambition. Like the sunrise bursting from a thick bank of clouds, a vision from the invisible world passed before these eyes—a Deity greater than the gods of this Empire manifested Himself to me. Stella, I am a Christian!”
With many tears he described his vision—the miraculous interposition of Divine Providence to call him to the light of faith. That day he arranged his affairs to abandon himself generously to the call of divine grace. Messengers were secured to guide him to the Catacombs, where the Christian Bishop ruled the Church of God. In spite of the remonstrance of his timid spouse, who dreaded the awful consequences involved in the profession of Christianity in these days of terror, he hastened the first hour after nightfall to the crypts on the Salarian Way. Amongst the sublime lessons taught him in his vision on the mountains, was the folly of
“Leaving to the mercies of a moment
The vast concerns of an eternal scene.”
It is probable that the terrible persecution of Domitian was but subsiding at this time. The Christians were obliged to seek shelter in the Catacombs from the fury of the storm; and whilst Almighty God permitted that they could not preach the law of grace and redemption publicly to the world, He supplied the ministry by the interior operations of grace, and gave to His suffering and banished Apostles the consolation of a more fruitful harvest. If, as we imagine, the martyrdom of Eustachius did not take place until about sixteen years after his baptism, the holy Pope Anacletus (according to Baronius) must have been sitting in the chair of St. Peter. Trajan was at this time Emperor, and of his character and reign we have already spoken in the life of St. Ignatius.
The holy Pope had taken shelter from the storms of persecution in a crypt in the Catacombs of St. Priscilla on the Via Salara. God vouchsafed to inform him in a vision of the conversion of Placidus. He was kneeling before a rude crucifix placed on the marble slab that covered a martyr’s tomb, and constituted the altar of the dread sacrifice of the Mass. A small oil lamp cast a dim flickering light on the sepulchral slabs; the silence of those corridors of the dead was only broken by the gentle murmur of prayer, or the faint echo of the hammer and axe of the fossores. Suddenly the holy father saw the walls of the archisolium fade before his view, and in their stead a charming scene in the Appenines. On the ledge of a rock he saw a majestic stag bearing in his horns, amidst a sun of light, the sacred sign of redemption, and prostrate in prayer lay the Roman General. The vision faded away again, and the holy father, who understood the mercy God had shown to a noble soul, remained long wrapt in grateful prayer.
When night had enveloped the city a mysterious party, thickly veiled and concealed under large cloaks, passed through the Salarian Gate. No questions were asked, for the military cloak of Placidus was a guarantee of protection. Two little children of three and five years held with childish fear their mother’s garments, and their quick little steps pattered musically on the massive pavement with the solemn strides of their military father. In silence they passed through the stately villas that adorned either side of the road, and soon reached the gentle declivity known to the ancient Christians as the Clivum Cucumeris. The guide brought them down through the long narrow corridors and introduced them to the presence of the holy pontiff, who rose and embraced Placidus as if he had known and loved him in years gone by.
We can imagine with what joy the holy Pope poured the regenerating waters of baptism on the heads of the Roman general and his family. It was on this occasion he received the name of Eustachius, his wife was called Theopista, and the two children Agapius and Theopiston, all names derived from the Greek, expressing favour with God. The parting words of the venerable Pontiff to the neophyte family were to take up their cross manfully, and bear it, like their crucified Master, to the very utmost of human endurance; they were called to glorify the Church in the days of its trouble; the Christian must be tried in the furnace of affliction; “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of heaven.” He seemed to speak with a prophetic spirit, for our next chapter will show Placidus proved and found faithful.
 Archisolium was the niche in which the holy sacrifice of the mass was celebrated.
PRAYER AFTER MEDITATION.
Of the Consideration of the Misery of Man.
II. Many unstable and weak men are apt to say: Behold how well such a one lives, how rich, how great, how mighty and powerful!
But attend to heavenly goods, and thou wilt see that all these temporal things are nothing, but very uncertain, and rather burdensome! because they are never possessed without care and fear.
The happiness of a man consisteth not in having temporal things in abundance: but a moderate competency sufficeth.
It is truly a misery to live upon earth. The more a man desireth to be spiritual, the more this present life becomes distasteful to him; because he the better understands and more clearly sees the defects of human corruption.
For to eat, drink, watch, sleep, rest, labour, and to be subject to other necessities of nature, is truly a great misery and affliction to a devout man, who desires to be released and free from all sin.–Thomas à Kempis–Imitation of Christ Bk I, Ch XXII pt II.
September Devotion: The Holy Cross.
Virtues to practice: Piety, fervor in the performance of sacred duties, the spirit of prayer.
Mary, most holy Virgin and Queen of Martyrs, accept the sincere homage of my filial affection. Into thy heart, pierced by so many swords, do thou welcome my poor soul. Receive it as the companion of thy sorrows at the foot of the Cross, on which Jesus died for the redemption of the world. With thee, O sorrowful Virgin, I will gladly suffer all the trials, contradictions, and infirmities which it shall please our Lord to send me. I offer them all to thee in memory of thy sorrows, so that every thought of my mind, and every beat of my heart may be an act of compassion and of love for thee. And do thou, sweet Mother, have pity on me, reconcile me to thy divine Son Jesus, keep me in His grace and assist me in my last agony, so that I may be able to meet thee in heaven and sing thy glories. Amen.
An indulgence of 500 days
Crux mihi certa salus.
Crux est quam semper adoro.
Crux Domini mecum.
Crux mihi refugium.
The cross is my sure salvation.
The cross I ever adore.
The cross of my Lord is with me.
The cross is my refuge.
His Holiness, Pope Pius IX., by an autograph rescript, June 21, 1874, granted to all the faithful who, with at least contrite heart and devotion, shall say these prayers, drawn up in the form of a cross by the Angelic Doctor, S. Thomas Aquinas: AN INDULGENCE OF THREE HUNDRED DAYS, once a day.
Adoramus te, sanctissime Domine Jesu Christe, benedicimus tibi; quia per sanctam crucem tuam redemisti mundum.
We adore Thee, O most blessed Lord, Jesus Christ, we bless Thee; because by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.
His Holiness, Pope Leo XIII., by a rescript of the S. Congr. of indulgences, March 4, 1882, granted to all the faithful who, with at least contrite heart and devotion, shall recite this ejaculation: AN INDULGENCE OF ONE HUNDRED DAYS, once a day.
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