Friday, May 27, 2022

Saint John the First, Pope and Martyr

White
Commemoration

The palm of martyrdom was won by this holy Pope, not in a victory over a Pagan Persecutor, but in battling for the Church’s Liberty, against a Christian King. But this king was a heretic, and therefore an enemy of every Pontiff that was zealous for the triumph of the true Faith. The state of Christ’s Vicar here on earth is a state of combat; and it frequently happens that a Pope is veritably a Martyr, without having shed his blood. St. John the First, whom we honour today, was not slain by the sword; a loathsome dungeon was the instrument of his martyrdom; but there are many Popes who are now in heaven with him, Martyrs like himself, who never even passed a day in prison or in chains: the Vatican was their Calvary. They conquered, yet fell in the struggle with so little appearance of victory, that heaven had to take up the defence of their reputation, as was the case with that angelic Pontiff of the eighteenth century, Clement the Thirteenth.

The Saint of today teaches us, by his conduct, what should be the sentiment of every worthy member of the Church. He teaches us that we should never make a compromise with heresy, nor approve the measures taken by worldly policy for securing what it calls the rights of heresy. If the past ages, aided by the religious indifference of Governments, have introduced the “Toleration of all Religions,” or even the principle that “all religions are to be treated alike by the State,”—let us, if we will, put up with this latitudinarianism, and be glad to see that the Church, in virtue of it, is guaranteed from legal persecution; but as Catholics, we can never look upon it as an absolute good. Whatever may be the circumstances in which Providence has placed us, we are bound to conform our views to the principles of our holy faith, and to the infallible teaching and practice of the Church—out of which, there is but contradiction, danger and infidelity.

The holy Liturgy thus extols the virtues and courage of our Saint:

Joannes Etruscus, Justino seniore Imperatore rexit Ecclesiam: ad quem profectus est Constantinopolim auxilii causa, quod Theodoricus rex hæreticus divexabat Italiam: cujus etiam iter Deus miraculis illustravit. Nam cum ei nobilis vir ad Corinthum equum, quo ejus uxor mansueto utebatur, itineris causa commodasset; factum est, ut domino postea remissus equus ita ferox evaderet, ut fremitu et totius corporis agitatione semper deinceps dominam expulerit: tamquam indignaretur mulierem recipere, ex quo sedisset in eo Jesu Christi vicarius. Quamobrem illi equum pontifici donaverunt. Sed illud majus miraculum, quod Constantinopoli in aditu portæ aureæ, inspectante frequentissimo populo, qui una cum Imperatore Pontifici honoris causa occurrerat, cæco lumen restituit. Ad cujus pedes prostratus etiam Imperator eum veneratus est. Rebus cum Imperatore compositis, in Italiam rediit, statimque epistolam scripsit ad omnes Italire episcopos, jubens eos Arianorum ecclesias ad Catholicum ritum consecrare, illud subjungens: Quia et nos quando fuimus Constantinopoli, tam pro religione Catholica, quam pro regis Theodorici causa, quascumque illis in partibus eorum ecclesias reperire potuimus, Catholicas eas consecravimus. Quod iniquissimo animo ferens Theodoricus, dolo accersitum Pontificem Ravennam in carcerem conjecit: ubi squalore inediaque afflictus, paucis diebus cessit e vita, cum sedisset annos duos, menses novem, dies quatuordecim: ordinatis eo tempore episcopis quindecim. Paulo post moritur Theodoricus: quem quidam erernita, ut scribit sanctus Gregorius, vidit inter Joannem Pontificem et Symmachum Patritium, quem idem occident, demergi in ignem Liparitanum, ut videlicet illi, quibus mortem attulerat, tamquam judices essent ejus interitus. Joannis corpus Ravenna Romam portatum est, et in Basilica sancti Petri sepultum.

John, by birth a Tuscan, governed the Church during the reign of the Emperor Justin the Elder. He undertook a journey to Constantinople, in order to solicit the Emperor’s protection against the heretical king Theodoric, who was persecuting the faithful of Italy. God honoured the Pontiff, during this journey, by several miracles. When about to visit Corinth, a certain nobleman lent him a horse, which he kept for his wife’s use, on account of its being so gentle. When the Pontiff afterwards returned, and gave the horse back to the nobleman, it was no longer a tame creature as before; but, as often as its mistress attempted to ride it, would snort and prance, and throw her from its back, as though it scorned to bear a woman’s weight, after it had carried the Vicar of Christ. They therefore gave the horse to the Pontiff. But a greater miracle was that which happened at Constantinople. Near to the Golden Gate, and in the presence of an immense concourse of people, who had assembled there together with the Emperor to show honour to the Pontiff, he restored sight to a blind man. The Emperor also prostrated before him, Out of a sentiment of veneration. Having arranged matters with the Emperor, he returned to Italy, and immediately addressed a letter to all its bishops, commanding them to consecrate the churches of the Arians, that they might be used for Catholic services. He added these words: “For, when at Constantinople, for the interests of the Catholic religion and on account of king Theodoric, we consecrated all the Arian churches we could find in that country, and made them Catholic.” Theodoric was exceedingly angry at this; and, having craftily induced the Pontiff to come to Ravenna, put him in prison. There, from the filth of the place, and from starvation, he died in a few days. He reigned two years, nine months, and fourteen days; during which time he ordained fifteen bishops. Theodoric died soon after; and St. Gregory relates that a certain hermit saw him plunged into a pit of fire at Lipari, in the presence of John the Pontiff, and the Patrician Symmachus, whom he had murdered: thus they whom he had put to death stood as judges condemning him to punishment. The body of St. John was taken from Ravenna to Rome, and buried in the Basilica of Saint Peter.

Thy fair palm, O holy Pontiff, was the reward of proclaiming the spotless holiness of the Church of Christ. She is the glorious Church, as St Paul calls her, having neither spot nor wrinkle; and, for that very reason she can never consent to yield to Heresy any of the inheritance given her by her Divine Lord. Nowadays, men form their calculations on the interests of this passing world, and are resolved to regulate society independently of the rights of the Son of God, from whom proceeds all social order, as well as all truth. They have deprived the Church of her external Constitution and influence; and at the same time, they give encouragement to the sects that have rebelled against her. So has it been, within the last few years, with Catholic Mexico; and how severely has not the crime been punished! O holy Pontiff, awaken in our hearts the sentiment of what Divine Truth is, and how Error can never create prescription against her rights. Then shall we submit to the unhappy necessities handed down to us by the fatal triumph of Heresy, without accepting, as a Progress, the principle and law that “all Religions are on an equality.” In thy prison, brave Martyr! thou proclaimedst the rights of the one only Church; preserve us, who are living during that Revolt which was foretold by the Apostle, from those cowardly compromises, dangerous prejudices, and culpable want of solid instruction, which are the ruin of so many souls; and may our last words, on leaving this world, be those that were taught us by our Jesus himself: Heavenly Father! Hallowed be thy Name! May thy Kingdom come!

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