Friday, April 29, 2016

Saint Peter, Martyr

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The hero deputed this day by the Church to greet our Risen Lord was so valiant in the Good Fight that Martyrdom is part of his name. He is known as Peter the Martyr; so that we cannot speak of him without raising the echo of victory. He was put to death by heretics, and is the grant tribute paid to our Redeemer by the 13th Century. Never was there a triumph hailed with greater enthusiasm than this. The Martyrdom of St. Thomas of Canterbury excited the admiration of the Faithful of the preceding Century, for nothing was so dear to our Forefathers as the Liberty of the Church; the Martyrdom of St. Peter was celebrated with a like intensity of praise and joy. Let us hearken to the fervid eloquence of the great Pontiff, Innocent the Fourth, who thus begins the Bull of the Martyr’s Canonization: “The truth of the Christian Faith, manifested, as it has been, by great and frequent miracles, is now beautified by the new merit of a new Saint—Lo! a combatant of these our own times comes, bringing us new and great and triumphant signs. The voice of his blood shed (for Christ) is heard, and the fame of his Martyrdom is trumpeted, through the world. The land is not silent that sweateth with his blood; the country that produced so noble a warrior resounds with his praise; yea, the very sword that did the deed of parricide proclaims his glory … Mother Church has great reason to rejoice, and abundant matter for gladness; she has cause to sing a new canticle to the Lord, and a hymn of fervent praise to her God: … the Christian people has cause to give forth devout songs to its Creator. A sweet fruit, gathered in the garden of Faith, has been set upon the table of the Eternal King: a grape-bunch, taken from the vineyard of the Church, has filled the royal cup with new wine. … The flourishing Order of Preachers has produced a red rose, whose sweetness is most grateful to the King; and from the Church here on earth, there has been taken a stone, which, after being cut and polished, has deserved a place of honor in the temple of heaven.”

Such was the language wherewith the supreme Pontiff spoke of the new Martyr, and the people responded by celebrating his Feast with extraordinary devotion. It was kept as were the ancient Festivals, that is, all servile work was forbidden upon it. The Churches served by the Fathers of the Dominican Order were crowded on his Feast; and the Faithful took little branches with them, that they might be blessed, in memory of the Triumph of Peter the Martyr. This custom is still observed; and the branches blessed by the Dominicans on this day are venerated as being a protection to the houses where they are kept.

How are we to account for all this fervent devotion of the people towards St. Peter? It was because he died in defense of the Faith; and nothing was so dear to the Christians of those days as Faith. Peter had received the charge to take up all the heretics who, at that time, were causing great disturbance and scandal in the country round about Milan. They were called Cathari, but in reality were Manicheans; their teachings were detestable, and their loves of the most immoral kind. Peter fulfilled his duty with a firmness and equity which soon secured him the hatred of the heretics; and when he fell a victim to his holy courage, a cry of admiration and gratitude was heard throughout Christendom. Nothing could be more devoid of truth than the accusations brought by the enemies of the Church and their indiscreet abettors, against the measures formerly decreed by the public law of Catholic nations, in order to foil the efforts made by evil-minded men to injure the true Faith. In those times, no tribunal was so popular as that whose office it was to protect the Faith, and to put down all them that attacked it. It was to the Order of St. Dominic that this office was mainly entrusted; and well may they be proud of the honor of having so long held one so beneficial to the salvation of mankind. How many of its members have met with a glorious death in the exercise of their stern duty! St. Peter is the first of the Martyrs given by the Order for this holy cause: his name, however, heads a long list of others who were his Brethren in Religion, his successors in the defense of the Faith, and his followers to martyrdom. The coercive measures that were once and successfully used to defend the Faithful from heretical teachers, have long since ceased to be used: but for us Catholics, our judgment of them must surely be that of the Church. She bids us today honor as a Martyr one of her Saints who was put to death while resisting the wolves that threatened the sheep of Christ’s fold; she we not be guilty of disrespect to our Mother if we dared to condemn what she so highly approves? Far, then, be from us that cowardly truckling to the spirit of the age, which would make us ashamed of the courageous efforts made by our forefathers for the preservation of the Faith! Far from us that childish readiness to believe the calumnies of Protestants against an Institution which they naturally detest! Far from us that deplorable confusion of ideas which puts truth and error on an equality and, from the fact that error can have no rights, concludes that truth can claim none!

The following is the account given us by the Church of the virtues and heroism of St. Peter the Martyr.

Petrus Veronæ parentibus Manichæorum hæresi infectis natus, ab ipsa pene infantia contra hæreses pugnavit. Puer annorum septem, cum scholas frequentaret, aliquando a patruo hæretico interrogatus, quid tandem in iis didicisset, Christianæ Fidei Symbolum se didicisse respondit: neque ullis unquam patris patruive blanditiis, aut minis a fidei constantia dimoveri potuit. Adolescens causa venit: ubi a Spiritu Sancto ad sublimioris vitæ formam vocatus, Ordinis Prædicatorum institutum suscepit.

Peter was born at Verona, of parents who were infected with the heresy of the Manichees; but he himself, almost from his very infancy, fought against heresies. When he was seven years old, he was one day asked by an uncle, who was a heretic, what they taught him at the school he went to? He answered, that they taught him the Symbol of the Christian Faith. His father and uncle did all they could, both by promises and threats, to shake the firmness of his faith: but all to no purpose. When old enough, he went to Bologna, in order to prosecute his studies. While there, he was called by the Holy Ghost to a life of perfection, and obeyed the call by entering into the Order of St. Dominic.

Magno virtutum splendore in religione eluxit: corpus et animam ab omni impuritate ita custodivit, ut nullius mortiferi peccati labe se inquinatum unquam senserit. Carnem jejuniis et vigiliis mascerabat, mentem divinis contemplationibus exercebat: in salute animarum procuranda assidue versabatur, peculiaris gratiæ dono hæreticos acriter confutabat. Tantam in concionando vim habuit, ut in numerabilis hominum multitudo ad eum audiendum conflueret, multique ad pœnitentiam converterentur.

Great were his virtues as a Religious man. So careful was he to keep both body and soul from whatsoever could sully their purity, that his conscience never accused him of committing a mortal sin. He mortified his body by fasting and watching, and applied his mind to the contemplation of heavenly things. He labored incessantly for the salvation of souls, and was gifted with a special grace for refuting heretics. He was so earnest when preaching, that people used to go in crowds to hear him, and numerous were the conversions that ensued.

Tanto fidei ardore incensus erat, ut pro ea mortem subire optaret, eamque a Deo gratiam enixe precaretur. Itaque hæretici necem, quam is paulo ante concionando prædixerat, illi intulerunt. Nam cum sanctæ Inquisitionis munus gereret, illum Como Mediolanum redeuntem, impius sicarius semel atque iterum in capite gladio vulneravit; jamque pene mortuos, Symbolum fidei, quam infans virili fortitudine confessus fuerat, in ipso supremo spiritu pronuntiavit: iterumque latera mucrone transverberatus, ad martyrii palmam migravit in cœlum, anno salutis millesimo ducentesimo quinquagesimo secundo: quem multis illustrem miraculis, Innocentius Quartus anno sequenti, sanctorum Martyrum numero adscripsit.

The ardor of his faith was such, that he wished he might die for it, and earnestly did he beg that favor from God. This death, which he foretold a short time before in one of his sermons, was inflicted on him by the heretics. While returning from Como to Milan, in the discharge of the duties of the holy Inquisition, he was attacked by a wicked assassin, who struck him twice on the head with a sword. The Symbol of faith, which he had confessed with manly courage when but a child, he now began to recite with his dying lips; and having received another wound in his side, he went to receive a Martyr’s palm in heaven, in the year of our Lord twelve hundred and fifty-two. Numerous miracles attested his sanctity, and his name was enrolled the following year by Innocent the Fourth, in the list of the Martyrs.

The following Antiphons and Responsory are taken from the Dominican Breviary.

Ant. De funo lumen oritur, et rosæ flos de sentibus: doctor, et martyr nascitur Petrus de infidelibus.

Ant. There rises a light from smoke, and a rose from the midst of briars: Peter, the Doctor and Martyr, is born of infidel parents.

Ant. Prædicatorum ordinis militans in acie, nunc conjunctis est agmini cœlestis militiæ.

Ant. A soldier once in the ranks of the Order of Preachers, he now is joined to the troop of the heavenly army.

Ant. Mens fuit angelica, lingua fructuosa, vita apostolica, mors quam pretiosa.

Ant. His mind angelic, his tongue fruitful, his life apostolic, his death most precious.

℟. Dum Samsonis vulpes quærit, ab iniquis cæditur: caput sacrum lictor ferit, justi sanguis funditor; * Sic triumphi palmam gerit, dum pro fide moriter.

℟. While in earch of Samson’s foxes, he is slain by the wicked: the lictor strikes the holy head, the blood of the just man is shed: * Thus he holds the palm of triumph, while dying for the faith.

℣. Stat invictus pugil fortis: constans profert hora mortis fidem, pro qua patitur. * Sic triumphi palmam gerit, dum pro fide moritur.

℣. The brave soldier is unconquered: at the hour of death, he courageously confesses the faith, for which he suffers. * Thus he holds the palm of triumph, while dying for the faith.

The victory was thine, O Peter! and thy zeal for the defense of holy Faith was rewarded. Thou ardently desiredst to shed thy blood for the holiest of causes, and, by such a sacrifice, to confirm the Faithful of Christ in their religion. Our Lord satisfied thy desire; he would even have thy martyrdom be in the festive Season of the Resurrection of our Divine Lamb, that his glory might add luster to the beauty of thy holocaust. When the death blow fell upon thy venerable head, and thy generous blood was flowing from the wounds, thou didst write on the ground the first words of the Creed, for whose holy truth thou wast giving thy life.

Protector of the Christian people! what other motive hadst thou, in all thy labors, but charity? What else but a desire to defend the weak from danger, induced thee not only to preach against error, but to drive its teachers from the flock? How many simple souls, who were receiving divine truth from the teaching of the Church, have been deceived by the lying sophistry of heretical doctrine, and have lost the Faith? Surely, the Church would do her utmost to ward off such dangers from her children: she would do all she could to defend them from enemies, who were bent on destroying the glorious inheritance, which had been handed down to them by millions of Martyrs? She knew the strange tendency that often exists in the heart of fallen man to love error; whereas Truth, though of itself unchanging, is not sure of its remaining firmly in the mind, unless it be defended by learning or by faith. As to learning, there are but few who possess it; and as to faith, error is ever conspiring against, and, of course, with the appearance of truth. In the Christian Ages, it would have been deemed not only criminal, but absurd, to grant to error the liberty which is due only to truth; and that they were in authority considered it a duty to keep the weak from danger by removing them all occasions of a fall—just as the father of a family keeps his children from coming in contact with wicked companions, who could easily impose on their inexperience, and lead them to evil under the name of good.

Obtain for us, O holy Martyr, a keen appreciation of the precious gift of Faith—that element which keeps us in the way of salvation. May we zealously do everything that lies in our power to preserve it, both in ourselves and in them that are under our care. The love of this holy Faith has grown cold in so many hearts; and frequent intercourse with heretics or free-thinkers has made them think and speak of matters of Faith in a very loose way. Pray for them, O Peter, that they may recover that fearless love of the Truths of Religion which should be one of the chief traits of the Christian character. If they be living in a country where the modern system is introduced of treating all Religions alike, that is, of giving equal rights to error and to truth—let them be all the more courageous in professing the truth, and detesting the errors opposed to the truth. Pray for us, O holy Martyr, that there may be enkindled within us an ardent love of that Faith without which it is impossible to please God. Pray that we may become all earnestness in this duty, which is of vital importance to salvation—that thus our Faith may daily gain strength within us, till at length we shall merit to see in heaven what we have believed unhesitatingly on earth.

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