Monday, September 2, 2019

Saint Stephen, King of Hungary, Confessor

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Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness. The people with teeth of steel grinding the nations gives itself up as food to him, to whom was said: Kill and eat; the mouth of the Huns, formerly vomiting foam and rage, now distills the honey of charity. Such, O Christ, are thy miracles; such are thy works, O our God!” Thus does Baronius, on reaching in his history the year of Christ 1000, hail the arrival of the Hungarian deputies, who came to offer to the Roman Church the suzerainty of their land, and beseech the Vicar of Christ to confer the title of king upon their Duke Stephen.

We are carried back in thought a century earlier, when, led by Arpadus, the son of Almutz, under the banner of the hawk, the Magyars came down from the mountains of Transylvania into the plains watered by the Theiss and the Danube. Attila seemed to live again in these sons of his race, who poured like a torrent over Germany, Gaul and Italy. But the empire of the Huns over reconquered Pannonia was only to be lasting on condition of its ceasing to be the scourge of God, and becoming the rampart of his Church. In this world, while it is not yet time for eternal justice, the instruments of God’s anger are soon broken, unless they are amenable to love. Five centuries earlier, Attila in person was rushing like an overflowing river upon the capital of the world, when he was met by the Sovereign Pontiff. The Hungarian chronicles record the following message as having been then received from heaven by the universal devastator: “Hearken to the command of the Lord God, Jesus Christ. Thy pride shall not be suffered to enter into the holy city where lie the bodies of my Apostles. Return. Later on a descendent of thine will come to Rome with humility; and I will cause him there to receive a crown that shall last forever.” Attila thereupon recrossed the Alps, and had only just time to reach the Danube before he died. In the days of St. Stephen the heavenly promise was fulfilled. Let the reader not be astonished that we do not discuss its authenticity. Legendary or not, as to the forms with which national traditions have clothed it, there is nothing in this divine engagement that the historian need reject: it is in accordance with the rules of God’s Providence, which governs history. God never forgets a service; nor does apostolic gratefulness wear out with years: the debt of gratitude which Leo the Great contracted, Sylvester II paid at the appointed time. From that tomb respected by the plunderer, a virtue came forth, changing the avenger into an apostle. The crown, placed on the brow of Attila’s successor by Peter’s successor, was destined to be his as long as he should be preceded by the Cross, that other mark of honor conferred upon him. Like the Holy Empire, to which Hungary was to be later on united without however being absorbed by it, the Hungarian monarchy was founded upon Peter; for his sake it subsisted, and he alone, under God, was the safeguard of its future.

Let not the sad forebodings of the present hour make us forget the marvelous power shown on this feast by the Lamb the Ruler of the earth. Scarcely had the blood shed by the sons of Arpadus disappeared from the streets of the cities; scarcely had the smoke of burning ruins and the dust of crumbling walls been scattered; when their fierce energy, tempered like a choice blade in the waters of the sacred font, became the defense of Christianity in the East. A new sort of invasion began; the holiness sprung from Stephen put forth numerous branches, which, shedding their beautiful blossoms over the whole earth, filled all lands with perfumes for the Spouse.

Let us read the history of the apostolic king, as given in the Book of Holy Church.

Stephanus in Hungariam Christi fidem et regium nomen invexit. Regia corona a Romano Pontifice impetrata, ejusque jussu in regem inunctus, regnum Sedi apostolicæ obtulit. Varia pietatis domicilia Romæ Jerosolymis, Constantinopoli; in Hungaria archiepiscopatum Strigoniensem, episcopatus decem, admirabili religione et munificentia fundavit. Par in pauperes amor et liberalitas, quos veluti Christum ipsum complectens, neminem a se mærentem ac vacuum umquam dimisit; quin ad eorum inopiam sublevandam amplissimis facultatibus erogatis, domesticam quoque supellectilem eximia benignitate frequenter distribuit: suis insuper manibus lavare pauperum pedes, noctu solus et ignotus nosocomia frequentare, decumbentibus inservire, ac cetera caritatis officia exhibere consuevit: quarum virtutum merito illius dextera, resoluto cetero corpore, incorrupta permansit.

Stephen introduced into Hungary both the faith of Christ and the regal dignity. He obtained his royal crown from the Roman Pontiff; and having been, by his command, anointed king, offered his kingdom to the Apostolic See. He built several houses of charity at Rome, Jerusalem, and Constantinople: and with a wonderfully munificent spirit of religion, he founded the archiepiscopal See of Gran and ten other bishoprics. His love for the poor was equaled only by his generosity towards them; for, seeing in them Christ himself, he never sent anyone away sad or empty-handed. So great indeed was his charity that, to relieve their necessities, after expending large sums of money, he often bestowed upon them his household goods. It was his custom to wash the feet of the poor with his own hands, and to visit the hospitals at night, alone and unknown, serving the sick and showing them every charity. As a reward for these good deeds his right hand remained incorrupt after death, when the rest of his body had returned to dust.

Orandi studio noctes pene totas ducebat insomnes, atque in cœlestium rerum contemplatione defixus, interdum extra sensus raptus, sublimis in sera ferri visus fuit. Perduellium conspiratione, ac validorum hostium impetus, miro prorsus modo, non semel orationis præsidio evitavit. Susceptum ex Ghisella Bavarica, sancti Henrici imperatoris sorore, quam sibi matrimonio juxerat, Emericum filium tanta morum disciplina, talique pietate enutrivit, quantum ejus postea sanctitas declaravit. Regni vero negotia ita disposuit, ut accitis undique prudentissimis et sanctissimis viris, nihil umquam sine illorum consilio moliretur. Humillimis interim precibus in cinere et cilicio Deum deprecans, ut universum Hungariæ regnum, antequam e vita migraret, catholicum videre mereretur. Vere propter ingens dilatandæ fidei studium, illius gentis Apostolus nuncupatus, facta a Romano Pontifice ipsi, posterisque regibus præferendæ crucis potestate.

He was much given to prayer; and would spend almost entire nights without sleep, rapt in heavenly contemplation; at times he was seen ravished out of his senses, and raised in the air. By the help of prayer, he more than once escaped in a wonderful manner from treasonable conspiracies and from the attacks of powerful enemies. Having married Ghisella of Bavaria, sister of the emperor St. Henry, he had by her a son Emeric, whom he brought up in such regularity and piety as to form him into a saint. He summoned wise and holy men from all parts to aid him in the government of his kingdom, and undertook nothing without their advice. In sackcloth and ashes, he besought God with most humble prayer, that he might not depart this life without seeing the whole kingdom of Hungary Catholic. So great indeed was his zeal for the propagation of the Faith, that he was called the Apostle of his nation, and he received from the Roman Pontiff, both for himself and for his successors, the privilege of having the Cross borne before them.

Dei Genitricem, quam ardentissime venerabatur, amplissimo in ejus honorem constructo templo, Hungariæ Patronam instituit, ab eadem vicissim Virgine receptus in cœlum ipso suæ Assumptionis die, quem Hungari, e sancti regis instituto, Magnæ Dominæ diem appellant. Sacrum ejus corpus suavissimo fragrans odore, liquore cœlesti scatens, inter multa et varia miracula, Romani Pontificis jussu, nobiliorem in locum translatum est, atque honorificentius conditum. Ejus autem festum Innocentius Undecimus Pontifex Maximus quarto nonas septembris, ob insignem victoriam ab exercitu Leopoldi Primi Romanorum electi imperatoris et Hungariæ regis, eadem die in Budæ expugnatione, ope divina e Turcis reportatam, celebrandum instituit.

He had the most ardent devotion towards the Mother of God, in whose honor he built a magnificent church, solemnly declaring her patroness of Hungary. In return the Blessed Virgin received him into heaven on the very day of her Assumption, which the Hungarians, by the appointment of their holy king, call “the day of the Great Lady.” His sacred body, exhaling a most fragrant odor and distilling a heavenly liquor, was, by order of the Roman Pontiff, translated, amidst many and divers miracles, to a more worthy resting place, and buried with great honor. Pope Innocent IX commanded his feast to be celebrated on the fourth of the Nones of September; on which day, Leopold I emperor elect of the Romans and king of Hungary, had, by the divine assistance, gained a remarkable victory over the Turks at the siege of Buda.

Apostle and king, protect thy people, assist the Church, succor us all. At the close of that tenth century, when anarchy had penetrated even into the sanctuary, hope sprang up once more on the day whereon the Holy Spirit, the Creator and Renovator, chose thy race, in all its native vigor, to renew the youth of the world. Satan, who thought that the Papacy was humiliated once for all, trembled with rage when he saw new laborers coming to Peter, as to the only foundation on which it is possible to build. The proudest family that had ever caused the empire of Romulus to shake, asked of Rome the right to be counted among the nations of the West. How true it is that the gates of hell shall never prevail against the rock, against the Church founded thereon, against the holy city prepared on the top of mountains to draw all nations to itself. In vain had the storm stirred up the very mire of the torrents of the abyss: it was the hour when God lifted up his hand, as the prophet says, towards the far-off lands, and kings came, bringing to the ever holy Bride those unknown sons whom they themselves had educated for her.

No, the Lord confoundeth not them that wait for him. And therefore we will hope, even against hope, in the future of the noble nation established by thee upon the apostolic strength. A people justly proud of so many irreproachable heroes could not allow itself to be long led astray by a false liberty kept up by Jewish gold, and extolled by all the enemies of the country’s traditions. Martin watches together with thee over the land of his birth; and the sovereign of Hungary, the august Queen of heaven, will not suffer her loyal subject to the listen to the proposals of the infernal spirit.

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