Sunday, June 29, 2008

June 29/30 Sts. Peter and Paul - The Martyrdom of St. Paul (Dom Guéranger)

The stained glass window of Sts. Paul and Peter in St. Mary Mother of God Catholic Church, Washington, DC

(The following is excerpted from Dom Prosper Guéranger's entry in The Liturgical Year for 30 June -- the Commemoration of St. Paul, in Volume XII of the 1983 Marian House edition of the English translation by the Benedictines of Stanbrook.)

"...Paul, having appealed to Caesar [see Acts 25: 11-12], landed in Italy at the beginning of the year 56. Then at last the apostle of the Gentiles made his entry into Rome...."

"Instead of having to await in prison the day whereon his cause was to be heard, Paul was at liberty to choose a lodging-place in the city. He was obliged, however, to be accompanied day and night by a soldier to whom, according to the usual custom, he was chained, but only in such a way as to prevent his escape: all his movements being otherwise left perfectly free, he could easily continue to preach the Word of God. Towards the close of the year 57, in virtue of his appeal to Caesar, the apostle was at last summoned before the praetorium, and the successful pleading in his cause resulted in his acquittal."

"Being no free, Paul revisited the East, confirming on his evangelical course the Churches he had previously founded. Thus Ephesus and Crete once more enjoyed his presence; in the one he left his disciple Timothy as bishop, and in the other Titus. But Paul had not quitted Rome for ever: marvellously enlightened as she had been by his preaching, the Roman Church was yet to be gilded by his parting rays and empurpled by his blood. A heavenly warning, as in Peter's case, bade him also return to Rome where martyrdom was awaiting him. This fact is attested by St. Athanasius: we learn the same also from St. Asterius of Ameseus, who hereupon remarks that the apostle entered Rome once more, 'in order to teach the very masters of the world; to turn them into his disciples; and by their means to wrestle with the whole human race. There Paul finds Peter engaged in the same work; he at once yokes himself to the same divine chariot with him, and sets about instructing the children of the Law within the synagogues, and the Gentiles outside.'"

"At last Rome possesses her two princes conjointly: the one seated on the eternal chair, holding in his hands the keys of the kingdom of heaven; the other surrounded by the sheaves he has garnered from the fields of the Gentile world. They shall now part no more; even in death, as the Church sings, they shall not be separated. The period of their being together was necessarily short, for they must render to their Master the testimony of blood before the Roman world should be freed from the odious tyranny under which it was groaning. Their death was to be Nero's last crime; after that he was to fade from sight, leaving the world horror-stricken at his end, as shameful as it was tragic."

"It was in the year 65 that Paul returned to Rome; once more signalizing his presence there by the manifold works of his apostolate. From the time of his first labours there, he had made converts even in the palace of the Caesars: having returned to this former theatre of his zeal, he again found entrance into the imperial abode. A woman who was living in criminal intercourse with Nero, and also a cup-bearer of his, were both caught in the apostolic net, for it were hard indeed to resist the power of that mighty word. Nero, enraged at 'this foreigner's' influence in his household, as bent on Paul's destruction. He was cast into prison, but such was his zeal that he persisted the more in preaching Jesus Christ. The two converts of the imperial palace having abjured, together with paganism, the manner of life they had been leading, their twofold conversion hastened Paul's martyrdom...."

"On the twenty-ninth of June, in the year 67, whilst Peter, having crossed the Tiber by the triumphal bridge,was drawing nigh to the cross prepared for him on the Vatican plain, another martyrdom was being consummated on the left bank of the same river. Paul, as he was led along the Ostian Way, was also followed by a group of the faithful who mingled with the escort of the condemned. His sentence was that he should be beheaded at the Salvian waters [Aquae Salviae in Latin, which were/are freshwater springs]. A two miles' march brought the soldiers to a path leading eastwards, by which they led their prisoner to the place fixed upon for his martyrdom. Paul fell on his knees, addressing his last prayer to God; then having bandaged his eyes, he awaited the death-stroke. A soldier brandished his sword, and the apostle's head, as it was severed from the trunk, made three bounds along the ground; three fountains immediately sprang up on these several spots. Such is the local tradition; and to this day three fountains are to be seen on the site of his martyrdom, over each of which in altar is raised [in the church San Paolo alle Tre Fontane]...."


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