Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Saints Cosmas and Damian, Martyrs


Honor the physician for the need thou hast of him: for the most High hath created him. For all healing is from God, and he shall receive gifts of the king. The skill of the physician shall lift up his head, and in the sight of great men he shall be praised. The most High hath created medicines out of the earth, and a wise man will not abhor them. Was not bitter water made sweet with wood? The virtue of these things is come to the knowledge of hem, and the most High hath given knowledge to men, that he may be honored in his wonders. By these he shall cure and shall allay their pains, and of these the apothecary shall make sweet confections, and shall make up ointments of health, and of his works there shall be no end. For the peace of God is over the face of the earth. My son, in thy sickness neglect not thyself, but pray to the Lord, and he shall heal thee. Turn away from sin and order thy hands aright, and cleanse thy heart from all offense. Give a sweet savor, and a memorial of fine flour, and make a fat offering, and then give place to the physician. For the Lord created him: and let him not depart from thee, for his works are necessary. For there is a time when thou must fall into their hands: and they shall beseech the Lord, that he would prosper what they give for ease and remedy, for their conversation. These words of the Wise Man are appropriate for this feast. The Church, obeying the inspired injunction, honors the medical profession in the persons of Cosmas and Damian, who not only, like many others (Dom A. M. Fournier, Notices sur les saints médecins), sanctified themselves in that career; but far beyond all others, demonstrated to the world how grand a part the physician may play in Christian society.

Cosmas and Damian had been Christians from their childhood. The study of Hippocrates and Galen developed their love of God, whose invisible perfections they admired reflected in the magnificences of creation, and especially in the human body his palace and his temple. To them, science was a hymn of praise to their Creator, and the exercise of their art a sacred ministry; they served God in his suffering members, and watched over his human sanctuary, to preserve it from injury or to repair its ruins. Such a life of religious charity was fittingly crowned by the perfect sacrifice of martyrdom.

East and West vied with each other in paying homage to the Anargyres, as our Saints were called on account of their receiving no fees for their services. Numerous churches were dedicated to them. The emperor Justinian embellished and fortified the obscure town of Cyrus out of reverence for their sacred relics there preserved; and about the same time, Pope Felix IV built a church in their honor in the Roman Forum, thus substituting the memory of the twin martyrs for that of the less happy brothers Romulus and Remus. Not long before this, St. Benedict had dedicated to Saints Cosmas and Damian his first monastery at Subiaco, now known as St. Scholastica’s. But Rome rendered the highest of all honors to the holy Arabian brethren, by placing their names, in preference to so many thousands of her own heroes, in the solemn litanies and on the sacred diptychs of the Mass.

In the middle ages, the physicians and surgeons banded together into confraternities, whose object was the sanctification of the members by common prayer, charity towards the destitute, and the accomplishment of all the duties of their important vocation for the greater glory of God and the greater good of suffering humanity. The Society of Sts. Luke, Cosmas and Damian has now undertaken in France the renewal of these happy traditions.

The following is the Church’s account of the two brothers.

Cosmas et Damianus, fratres Arabes, in Ægea urbi nati, nobiles medici, imperatoribus Diocletiano et Maximiano, non magis medicinæ scientia quam Christi virtute, morbis etiam insanabilibus medebantur. Quorum religionem cum Lysias præfectus cognovisset, adduci eos ad se jubet, ac de vivendi instituto et de fidei professione interrogatos, cum se et Christianos esse, et christianam fidem esse ad salutem necessariam, libere prædicarent, deos venerari imperat; et si id recussut, minatur cruciatus et necem acerbissimam.

The brother Cosmas and Damian were Arabians of noble extraction, born in the town of Ægæ. They were physicians; and during the reign of Diocletian and Maximian, healed even incurable maladies no less by Christ’s assistance than by their knowledge of medicine. The prefect Lysias, being informed of their religion, ordered them to be brought before him, and questioned them on their faith and their manner of life. They openly declared that they were Christians, and that the Christian faith is necessary to salvation; whereupon Lysias commanded them to adore the gods, threatening them, if they refused, with torture and a cruel death.

Verum ut se frustra hæc illis proponere intelligit: Colligate, inquit, manus et pedes istorum, eosque exquisitis torquete suppliciis. Quibus jussa exsequentibus, nihilominus Cosmas et Damianus in sententia persistebant. Quare ut erant vincti, in profundum mare jaciuntur: unde cum salvi ac soluti essent egressi, magicis artibus præfectus factum assignans, in carcerem tradit, ac postridie eductos, in ardentem rogum injici jubet: ubi cum ab ipsis flamma refugeret, varie et crudeliter tortos securi percuti voluit. Itaque in Jesu Christi confessione martyrii palmam acceperunt.

But as the prefect saw his threats were in vain: “Bind their hands and feet,” he cried, “and torture them with the utmost cruelty.” His commands were executed, but Cosmas and Damian remained firm. They were then thrown, chained as they were, into the sea, but came out safe and loosed from their bonds. The prefect attributing this to magical acts ordered them to prison. The next day, he commanded them to be led forth and thrown on a burning pile, but the flame refused to touch them. Finally, after several other cruel tortures, they were beheaded; and thus confessing Jesus Christ, they won the palm of martyrdom.

In you, O illustrious brethren, was fulfilled this saying of the Wise Man: The skill of the physician shall lift up his head, and in the sight of great men he shall be praised. The great ones, in whose sight you are exalted, are the princes of the heavenly hierarchies, witnessing today the homage paid to you by the Church militant. The glory that surrounds your heads is the glory of God himself, of that bountiful king, who rewards your former disinterestedness by bestowing upon you his own blessed life.

In the bosom of divine love, your charity cannot wax cold; help us, then, and heal the sick who confidently implore your assistance. Preserve the health of God’s children so that they may fulfill their obligations to the world, may courageously bear the light yoke of the Church’s precepts. Bless those physicians who are faithful to their baptism, and who seek your aid; and increase the number of such.

See how the study of medicine now so often leads astray into the paths of materialism and fatalism, to the great detriment of science and humanity. It is false to assert that simple nature is the explanation of suffering and death; and unfortunate are those whose physicians regard them as mere flesh and blood. Even the pagan school took a loftier view than that; and it was surely a higher ideal that inspired you to exercise your art with such religious reverence. By the virtue of your glorious death, O witnesses to the Lord, obtain for our sickly society a return to the faith, to the remembrance of God, and to that piety which is profitable to all things and all men, having the promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.


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