December 10, 2017: POPE ST. MELCHIADES
December 10, 2017: COMMEMORATION OF ST. MELCHIADES, POPE AND MARTYR
Thou hast crowned him with glory and honour, O Lord. And hast placed him over the works of thy hands.
Have regard, O almighty God, to our weakness, and as we sink under the weight of our own doings, let the glorious intercession of blessed Melchiades, thy Martyr and Bishop, be a protection to us. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
The illustrious Pontiff, [Pope Melchiades,] whom St. Augustine calls the true child of the peace of Jesus Christ, the worthy Father of the Christian people, ascended the papal throne in the year 311, that is, during the very fiercest storm of persecution. It is on this account that he is honoured with the title of Martyr. Though he did not shed his blood for the name of Jesus, yet he shared in the glory of the Martyrs, by reason of the great trials he had to suffer during the persecution, which afflicted the entire Church. It was the same with many of his predecessors. But the Pontificate of Melchiades marks a very important period of the Church,—the transition from persecution to peace. As early as the year 312, liberty had been granted to the Christian religion by Constantine. So that Melchiades had the glory of governing the Church at the commencement of her period of temporal prosperity. His name now graces the calendar of the liturgical year, and reminds us of that Peace which will soon descend upon us from heaven.
Deign then, O Father of the Christian people, to pray for us to the Prince of Peace, that, in his approaching visit, he may quell our troubles, remove the obstacles to his grace, and reign as absolute Master over our heart, our mind, and our senses. Pray also that Peace may reign in the Holy City and Church of Rome, of which thou wast the Bishop, and which will honour thy venerable memory to the end of time: help her by thy intercession now that thou art face to face with God…
Life of St. Melchiades
Melchiades, or Miltiades, succeeded [Pope] Eusebius in the see of Rome, being chosen on the 2nd of July, 311, in the reign of Maxentius. Constantine vanquished that tyrant on the 28th of October, in 312, and soon after issued edicts, by which he allowed Christians the free exercise of their religion, and the liberty of building churches. To pacify the minds of the pagans, who were uneasy at this innovation, when he arrived at Milan in the beginning of the year 313, he, by a second edict ensured to all religions except heresies, liberty of conscience. Among the first laws which he enacted in favour of Christians, he passed one to exempt the clergy from the burden of civil offices. He obliged all his soldiers to repeat on Sundays a prayer addressed to the one only God; and no idolater could scruple at such a practice. The good pope rejoiced exceedingly at the prosperity of God's house, and, by his zealous labours, very much extended its pale; but he had the affliction to see it torn by an intestine division, in the Donatist schism, which blazed with great fury in Africa. Mensurius, Bishop of Carthage, being falsely accused of having delivered up the sacred scriptures to be burnt in the time of the persecution, Donatus, Bishop of Casa-nigra, in Numidia, most unreasonably separated himself from his communion, and continued his schism when Cecilian had succeeded Mensurius in the see of Carthage, and was joined by many jealous enemies of that good prelate, especially by the powerful Lady Lucilla, who was personally piqued against Cecilian whilst he was deacon of that church. The schismatics appealed to Constantine, who was then in Gaul, and entreated him to commission three Gaulish bishops, whom they specified, to judge their cause against Cecilian. The emperor granted them these judges they demanded, but ordered the aforesaid bishops to repair to Rome, by letter entreating Pope Melchiades to examine into the controversy, together with these Gaulish bishops, and to decide it according to justice and equity. The emperor left to the bishops the decision of this affair, because it regarded a bishop. Pope Melchiades opened a council in the Lateran palace on the 2nd of October, 313, at which both Cecilian and Donatus of Casa-nigra were present; and the former was pronounced by the pope and his council innocent of the whole charge that was brought against him. Donatus of Casa-nigra was the only person who was condemned on that occasion; the other bishops who had adhered to him were allowed to keep their sees upon their renouncing the schism. St. Austin, speaking of the moderation which the pope used, calls him an excellent man, a true son of peace, and a true father of Christians. Yet the Donatists, after his death, had recourse to their usual arms of slander to asperse his character, and pretended that the pope had delivered the scriptures into the hands of the persecutors; which St. Austin calls a groundless and malicious calumny. St. Melchiades died on the 10th of January, 314, having sat two years, six months, and eight days, and was buried on the Appian road, in the cemetery of Calixtus; is named in the Roman Martyrology, and in those of Bede, Ado, Uauard, &c. In some calendars he is styled a martyr, doubtless on account of his sufferings in preceding persecutions.
This holy pope saw a door opened by the peace of the church to the conversion of many, and he rejoiced at the triumph of the cross of Christ. But with worldly prosperity a worldly spirit too often broke into the sanctuary itself, insomuch that the zealous pastor had sometimes reason to complain, with Isaiah, “Thou hast multiplied the nation, and hast not increased my joy.” (Isaias, ix. 3) Under the pressures of severe persecution, the true spirit of our holy religion was maintained in many among its professors during the first ages; yet, amidst the most holy examples, and under the influence of the strongest motives and helps, avarice and ambition insinuated themselves into the hearts of some, who, by the abuse of the greatest graces, became of all others the most abandoned to wickedness; witness Judas the Apostate in the college of the apostles, also several amongst the disciples of the primitive saints, as Simon Magus, Paul of Samosata, and others. But with temporal honours and affluence, the love of the world, though most severely condemned by Christ, as the capital enemy to his grace and holy love, and the source of all vicious passions, crept into the hearts of many, to the utter extinction of the Christian spirit in their souls. This, indeed, reigns, and always will reign, in a great number of chosen souls, whose lives are often hidden from the world, but in whom God will always provide for his honour faithful servants on earth, who will praise him in spirit and truth. But so deplorable are the overflowings of sensuality, avarice, and ambition, and such the lukewarmness and spiritual insensibility which have taken root in the hearts of many Christians, that the torrent of evil example and a worldly spirit ought to fill every one with alarms, and oblige every one to hold fast, and be infinitely upon his guard that he be not carried away by it. It is not the crowd that we are to follow, but the gospel; and though temporal goods and prosperity are a blessing, they ought extremely to rouse our attention, excite our watchfulness, and inspire us with fear, being fraught with snares, and, by the abuse which is frequently made of them, the ruin of virtue.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year - Advent, Edition 1870;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. II; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume I, 1806.
Pope St. Melchiades, pray for us.