The Roman General— St. Eustachius – continued (6).
Feast Day: September 20th.
The weak and superstitious Adrian was sitting on the throne of the Caesars. He was a man of little ability, but of a low, deceitful and cruel disposition. He was capable of all the horrors which disgraced the reigns of some of his predecessors; but the public opinion was sick of wholesale bloodshed, and the awful deaths that closed the infamous career of those tyrants made the worthless Adrian tremble, and checked the brutal propensities of his impious heart. He was disposed to put in force the laws of persecution against the Christians, and stain again the great centres of public execution with the blood of hundreds of innocent subjects; but the example of his predecessor seemed to be his guiding star. Under Trajan the Empire was prosperous, and the enemies of the East were conquered, and new provinces were added to its boundaries; yet, in his hypocritical policy of conciliation, men of note among the Christians were publicly executed; their blood was intended to be the pledge of his piety to the demons of public worship. In the first part of his reign, he placed a superstitious confidence in the gods; and the highest exercise of pagan piety was the condemnation of the contemners of those gods. These of necessity were the Christians; but fear, imbecility, and a ridiculous piety seemed to clash in his character, and, like negatives, destroyed each other. The consequence was, that the Christians in his reign enjoyed a tolerable peace.
Yet martyrdoms occasionally took place. St. Symphorosa suffered under Adrian; and herself and seven children commemorate in ecclesiastical history the completion of his immense villa near Tivoli: the ivy-clad walls of its surviving ruins are now the favourite stopping-place for excursionists to the ancient Tibur. Amongst others, we find on the list of martyrs during this reign the servant-girl of the celebrated Tertullian, named Mary; SS. Alexander and Sixtus, Popes; St. Denis the Areopagite, and many more, of whom not the least remarkable was the hero of our present notice, and his family. All agree that the persecution of this time was irregular, and depended in a great measure on the fickle, impetuous, and cruel disposition of the Emperor. It was never during his reign completely extinct, but, like living embers occasionally burst into a flame, and then died away again.
Adrian had a great taste for architecture, and the repose which the Empire enjoyed during his reign allowed him to turn his attention to this favourite pursuit. Some of the most wonderful ruins of antiquity, which have withstood the shock of centuries, bear the stamp of his pride and prodigality. The Tiber, the Danube, the Rhine, and the Tyne in England still bear on their banks the mouldering ruins of bridges and tombs, castles and fortifications, which look down on the mighty rivers that flow as regularly and majestically as time itself, ever young in the vitality of nature. Of all the Roman Emperors, the name of Adrian is the most familiar to the pilgrim who visits the Eternal City. The stranger, after arriving in Rome, on his way to the Church of St. Peter, the greatest wonder of modern art, crosses the bridge and passes under the Castle of St. Angelo; these are the two first monuments of antiquity which catch his eye—they are the works of Adrian. Centuries of war and devastation, and the rains and storms of nearly seventeen hundred winters, have shorn the mighty mausoleum of its ornaments, but its massive, indestructible walls still serve as a fortress, a prison, and a castle, and, like a rock of nature, it looks down on passing generations: for centuries yet to come it will stand on the banks of the Tiber as a landmark by the stream of time!
Over the venerable pile now stands the rainbow of the modern covenant—the angel of God sheathing the fiery sword of justice. It was erected to commemorate a vision given to one of the greatest of the Popes—a meet symbol of the most remarkable epoch of Roman history, portraying not only the termination of a momentary scourge, but the close of the bloody days of persecution, and the commencement of the peaceful reign of the Pontificate for the universal benefit of mankind. . . .
Adrian entered Rome in the borrowed glory of the deceased Emperor; the shouts of triumph resounded through the city; he deified Trajan from the tomb of Augustus, and sent the eagle of his spirit to the liberty of the skies; he dedicated the superb column erected to the conqueror, and the arena of the Coliseum was once more reeking with the blood of gladiators and victims. During these games more than two hundred lions were slaughtered, and an immense number of captives and slaves were put to death.
It was one evening during these celebrations, that word was brought to the city that the army of Placidus had arrived, and was already on the Appian Way. A new impulse was given to the rejoicings, and a new triumph and procession were prepared for the victorious army. There is nothing so calculated to excite a people’s enthusiasm as the return of its armies from a triumphant campaign. Those who remember the day on which the heroes of the Crimea landed on the shores of England can well picture the veteran armies of Rome entering the capital in triumph. According to custom the Emperor went out to meet the general, and embraced him.* As the evening was far advanced, and the sun was already sinking beneath the blue Mediterranean, the Emperor gave orders that the army should encamp outside the walls for the night, in order to enter the city in triumph next morning. Placidus and his family returned with the Emperor to the Palatine, and were entertained at a sumptuous banquet. He gave the Emperor the history of his campaign, and spoke until a late hour of his battles, his conquests, the bravery of his two sons, and the extraordinary discovery of his wife and family.
Loud, shrill and cheerful were the trumpet blasts that roused the sleeping army on the following morning. The cup of joy for these poor creatures was full to the brim. They knew of no greater reward for years of hardship and trial, for the scars and wounds which disabled them for life, than the shouts of a brutal and barbarous mob, who hailed them along the road of triumph.
As they poured in through the gates, each of them received a laurel crown, whose freshness and beauty contrasted deeply with the sunburnt features and tattered garments of the veterans. Round their necks and about their persons they carried a profusion of tinsel trinkets, which they took from the conquered people as ornaments for their wives and children. There were waggons drawn by oxen laden with spoils, that made the massive pavements of the Appian Way creak; armour, gold and brass ornaments, wild animals in cages, and everything that could show the habits and manners of the conquered people. The general, together with his wife and two sons, was in a gilt chariot, drawn by four white horses, in the rear of his army. None of the pride and flush of drunken joy that characterised the pagan conqueror was to be seen in the meek countenance of Placidus. All this rejoicing and gorgeous display was to him and his Christian family the funeral pomp that led them to their tomb. The king who, on his death-bed, had himself invested with his crown and royal robes to meet death as a monarch, was a picture of Placidus led in triumph to martyrdom—a tale of the emptiness and instability of human greatness, often told in the vicissitudes of history! He was silent and collected; not even the deafening peals of applause from crowds of idle spectators, who made his name ring through the palaces and tombs that bend over the streets from the Capena gate to the Forum, induced him to look up with the smile of joyful approbation. He was well aware that in a few moments his belief in Christianity would be declared, for he could not sacrifice to the gods.
Whilst the procession was moving along, a murmur passed through the crowd. They asked one another where were the victims?—where the captive chiefs?—where the slaves usually dragged at the chariot wheels of the conqueror?—where the wailing matrons and daughters of the conquered race to sound the mournful music of triumph? Arrived at the Forum, the procession halted as usual, and the executioners and keepers of the Mamertine prison looked in vain for their victims; it was the first time in the annals of triumph that their axes had not been steeped in the blood of heroes, whose only crime was that they fought bravely for their homes and their countries. They knew nothing of the sublime morality that can forgive an enemy. Placidus pardoned the moment he had conquered, and instead of dragging helpless victims from their country and family, to be immolated to the demons of Rome, he left his name in the traces of his march in love and benediction.
But now the procession arrived at the entrance to the Temple of Jupiter. The priests were waiting in their robes, and snow-white oxen, with gilded horns and crowns of flowers, were held by the altar. Immense faggots were blazing in the heart of the temple to consume the victims, and fragrant incense was burning in golden vessels. Placidus and his family descended from their chariot and stepped on one side; they refused to enter they would not sacrifice.
If an earthquake had shaken the temple to its foundations, or a sudden eclipse had darkened the sun, there could not have been given a greater shock or surprise to the assembled thousands. The news ran like fire in a train of powder through the vast crowd. A deep heavy murmur, like the swell of the troubled deep breaking on its boundaries, rose from the multitudes in the Forum. Indignation and fury were the passions that swayed the mob. The demon of paganism reigned in their hearts; pity, justice and liberty were virtues unknown. From shouts of applause with which they hailed Placidus as the conqueror, the glory of the Empire, and the beloved of the martial god, they now hooted him with groans and hisses; and loudly from the gilded temples of the Capitol were echoed the terrible cries of “Death to the Christians!”—“Away with the Christians!” But the hour of another and grander triumph had come for our hero. Let us hurry through the dark picture of cruelty and ingratitude that closed his career on this side of the grave, to usher in the triumph that was to last for ever.
The noble general and his family were brought before the Emperor. Was Adrian glad to have Placidus brought before him as a criminal? Doubtless he looked with a jealous eye on the glory, popularity and real triumph of one who, a few months before, was his equal as a commander of the army, and his acknowledged superior in skill and attainments, whilst his own triumph was but a mockery—the borrowed plumes of a deceased hero, whose panegyric he reluctantly preached from the chariot of triumph. Moreover, weak-minded and servile, he must have rejoiced in an opportunity of pandering to the depraved taste of a cruel and brutal mob, who were accustomed to look on all authority as usurpation and oppression, and who hated Christianity with satanic virulence. Like Trajan, he determined to prove his piety towards the gods by the public execution of the greatest man in the Empire. He received the old chief in the Temple of Apollo, and, in a prepared speech, pretended what he never felt—sympathy for his folly. When asked by the haughty Adrian why he would not sacrifice to the gods, Placidus answered, bravely and fearlessly, “I am a Christian, and adore only the true God.”
“Whence comes this infatuation?” asked the Emperor, quickly. “Why lose all the glory of the triumph, and bring thy grey hairs to shame? Dost thou not know that I have power to put thee to a miserable death?”
Placidus meekly replied: “My body is in your power, but my soul belongs to Him who created it. Never shall I forget the mercy He has shown me in calling me to the knowledge of Himself, and I rejoice to be able to suffer for Him. You may command me to lead your legions against the enemies of the Empire, but never will I offer sacrifice to any other god than the One great and powerful God who created all things, stretched out the heavens in their glory, decked the earth in its beauty, and created man to serve Him; He alone is worthy of sacrifice; all other gods are but demons who deceive men.”
So also answered his wife and two sons. They bantered the Emperor himself for his folly in worshipping senseless pieces of marble and wood. In vain did Adrian try promises and threats, and all the silly arguments which were used in the defence of paganism. The faithful family were inflexible; the eloquence of Placidus was simple, but powerful and earnest; and the palpable defeat of Adrian in his attempt to reason with one gifted with the eloquence promised to those dragged before earthly tribunals, roused his pride and his cruelty, and the desire of revenge. The Coliseum stood but a few paces from them; the games were going on; the criminals and slaves of the Empire were the daily victims of its amusements. The condemnation of Placidus would be a stroke of policy to enhance the prosperity of his reign; it was the fullest gratification of the cruel passions of jealousy and revenge which the demon had stirred up in his heart; he ordered the Christian general and his family to be exposed to the wild beasts in the amphitheatre.
There is a convent of the Sisters of the Visitation now erected on the spot where this interview took place, and they sing in their office the beautiful and prophetic psalm of David, “Quare fremuerunt gentes,” &c.—“Why have the Gentiles raged, and the people devised vain things The kings of the earth stood up, and the princes met together against the Lord and against His Christ: Let us break their bonds asunder, and let us cast away their yoke from us. He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh at them, and the Lord shall deride them” (Ps. ii.). How sublime the idea suggested by the matin-song of the poor sisters, gliding over the silent and ivy-clad ruins of the fallen palace of the Caesars, whence came the direful persecutions of the Church, and all that the powers of darkness, impersonated in the impious Caesars of Rome, could do to destroy Christianity in its infancy!
It is probable that Placidus and his family passed that night in the dark and fetid prison of the Mamertine. . . . it is far more remarkable in the annals of the Church for its martyrs and Christian heroes than for its antiquity or political history. It was in this dreary abode that the Apostle St. Peter passed nine months, and converted his gaolers, Processus and Martinianus, and forty-seven others. To this day is shown the column to which the Apostle was bound, and the spring of water that is said by a pious tradition to have miraculously sprung up through the rock that he might baptize those whom he converted. It is a strange fact that the chair or throne of Pius IX. at the Vatican Council was erected over the altar of the martyrs Processus and Martinianus, who, eighteen hundred and six years ago, led to the dark prisons of the Mamertine the first King of the imperishable dynasty of the Papacy. Many holy confessors and martyrs have consecrated these prisons by their prayers, their tears, and their miracles; and there are few spots in Rome so rich in the sacred treasures of the past, more holy, or more attractive, than the Mamertine. It was reserved in a special manner for state-prisoners and persons of distinction, and hence, although the Acts of the Saint do not mention it, we have every reason to presume that Placidus and his family passed the night before their martyrdom in this horrible dungeon. But faith and the consolations of prayer can cast light into the darkest prisons; no external darkness or material affliction can blight the joy of the faithful soul.
 Miley, “Rome under Paganism and the Popes,” vol. ii, chap. 3.
 Reverso ergo Eustachio occurrit ei imperator ut mos est Romanis et victoriæ festivitates celebravit.—Ib.
 Prolixius extendit convivium etc.—Ib. No. 20.
 The author of this work has in preparation the history of the Mamertine prison and its martyrs. It is the oldest monument of ancient Rome and is deeply interesting in its sacred reminiscenses.
PRAYER AFTER MEDITATION.
My God, I give Thee heartfelt thanks for all the graces and all the light Thou hast conferred on me during this meditation. Pardon me all the negligence and the distractions of which I have been guilty, and give me strength to carry out the resolutions that I have made. Fortify me, that from henceforth I may diligently practise this virtue . . . avoid this fault . . . perform this action . . . to Thy honor. Help me to do this, sweet Virgin Mary; and if I ever forget my good resolutions, I entreat my Angel Guardian to recall them to my memory. Amen.
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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