April 29, 2018: ST. PETER OF VERONA
April 29, 2018: COMMEMORATION OF ST. PETER OF VERONA, MARTYR
The victory was thine, Peter! and thy zeal for the defence 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 lustre 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.
The following Antiphons and Responsory are taken from the Dominican Breviary.
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. A soldier once in the ranks of the Order of Preachers, he now is joined to the troop of the heavenly army.
Ant. His mind angelic, his tongue fruitful, his life apostolic, his death most precious.
℟. Whilst in search 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, whilst dying for the faith.
℣. 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, whilst dying for the faith.
Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that we may, with true zeal, profess the faith of blessed Peter, thy Martyr; who, for the propagation thereof, was crowned with a glorious death. 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 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 grand 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 honour in the temple of heaven.” (The Apostolic Constitution Magnis et crebris, of the 9th of the Kalends of April, 1253)
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 defence 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 lives 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 intrusted; and well may they be proud of the honour 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 defence 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 to-day honour as a Martyr one of her Saints, who was put to death whilst resisting the wolves that threatened the sheep of Christ's fold; should 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.
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. Whilst 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.
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 laboured 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.
The ardour of his faith was such, that he wished he might die for it, and earnestly did he beg that favour from God. This death, which he foretold a short time before in one of his sermons, was inflicted on him by the heretics. Whilst 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.
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. 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 (Heb, xi. 6). 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.
Life of St. Peter of Verona
St. Peter the martyr was born at Verona, in 1205, of parents infected with the heresy of the Cathari, a sort of Manichees, who had insensibly made their way into the northern parts of Italy, during the quarrel between the Emperor Frederic Barbarossa and the holy see. God preserved him from the danger which attended his birth, of being infected with heretical sentiments. His father being desirous of giving him an early tincture of learning, sent him, while very young, to a Catholic schoolmaster; not questioning but by his own instruction afterwards, and by the child's conversing with his heretical relations, he should be able to efface whatever impressions he might receive at school to the contrary. One of the first things he learned there was the apostles’ creed, which the Manichees held in abhorrence. His uncle one day, out of curiosity, asked him his lesson. The boy recited to him the creed, and explained it in the Catholic sense, especially in those words: Creator of heaven and earth. In vain did his uncle long endeavour to persuade him it was false, and that it was not God, but the evil principle that made all things that are visible; pretending many things in the world to be ugly and bad, which he thought inconsistent with the idea we ought to entertain of an infinitely perfect being. The resolute steadiness which the boy showed on the occasion, his uncle looked upon as a bad omen for their sect; but the father laughed at his fears, and sent Peter to the university of Bologna, in which city then reigned a licentious corruption of manners among the youth. God, however, who had before protected him from heresy, preserved the purity of his heart and the innocence of his manners amidst these dangers. Nevertheless he continually deplored his melancholy situation, and fortified himself every day anew in the sovereign horror of sin, and in all precautions against it. To fly it more effectually, he addressed himself to St. Dominic, and though but fifteen years of age, received at his hands the habit of his Order. But he soon lost that holy director, whom God called to glory. Peter continued with no less fervour to square his life by the maxims and spirit of his holy founder, and to practise his rule with the most scrupulous exactness and fidelity. He went beyond it even in those times of its primitive fervour. He was assiduous in prayer; his watchings and fasts were such, that even in his novitiate they considerably impaired his health; but a mitigation in them restored it before he made his solemn vows. When by them he had happily deprived himself of his liberty, to make the more perfect sacrifice of his life to God, he drew upon him the eyes of all his brethren by his profound humility, incessant prayer, exact silence, and general mortification of his senses and inclinations. He was a professed enemy of idleness, which he knew to be the bane of all virtues. Every hour of the day had its employment allotted to it; he being always either studying, reading, praying, serving the sick, or occupying himself in the most mean and abject offices, such as sweeping the house, &c, which, to entertain himself in sentiments of humility, he undertook with wonderful alacrity and satisfaction, even when he was senior in religion. But prayer was, as it were, the seasoning both of his sacred studies (in which he made great progress) and of all his other actions. The awakening dangers of salvation he had been exposed to, from which the divine mercy had delivered him in his childhood, served to make him always fearful, cautious, and watchful against the snares of his spiritual enemies. By this means, and by the most profound humility, he was so happy as, in the judgment of his superiors and directors, to have preserved his baptismal innocence unsullied to his death by the guilt of any mortal sin. Gratitude to his Redeemer for the graces he had received, a holy zeal for his honour, and a tender compassion for sinners, moved him to apply himself with great zeal and diligence to procure the conversion of souls to God. This was the subject of his daily tears and prayers; and for this end, after he was promoted to the holy order of priesthood, he entirely devoted himself to the function of preaching, for which his superiors found him excellently qualified by the gifts both of nature and grace. He converted an incredible number of heretics and sinners in the Romagna, the marquisate of Ancona, Tuscany, the Bolognese, and the Milanese. And it was by many tribulations, which befel him during the course of his ministry, that God prepared him for the crown of martyrdom. He was accused by some of his own brethren of admitting strangers, and even women, into his cell. He did not allow the charge, because this would have been a lie, but he defended himself, without positively denying it, and with trembling in such a manner as to be believed guilty, not of anything criminal, but of a breach of his rule: and his superiors imposed on him a claustral punishment, banished him to the remote little Dominican convent of Jesi, in the marquisite of Ancona, and removed him from the office of preaching. Peter received this humiliation with great interior joy, on seeing himself suffer something in imitation of Him, who, being infinite sanctity, bore with patience and silence the most grievous slanders, afflictions, and torments for our sake. But after some months his innocence was cleared, and he was commanded to return and resume his former functions with honour. He appeared every where in the pulpits with greater zeal and success than ever, and his humility drew on his labours an increase of graces and benedictions. The fame of his public miracles attested in his life, and of the numberless wonderful conversions wrought by him, procured him universal respect: as often as he appeared in public, he was almost pressed to death by the crowds that flocked to him, some to ask his blessing, others to offer the sick to him to be cured, others to receive his holy instructions. He declared war in all places against vice. In the Milanese he was met in every place with the cross, banner, trumpets, and drums; and was often carried on a litter on men's shoulders, to pass the crowd. He was made superior of several houses of his order, and in the year 1232 was constituted by the pope inquisitor general of the faith. He had ever been the terror of the new Manichee heretics, a sect whose principles and practice tended to the destruction of civil society and Christian morals. Now they saw him invested with this dignity, they conceived a greater hatred than ever against him. They bore it however under the popedom of Gregory IX, but seeing him continued in his office, and discharging it with still greater zeal under Pope Innocent IV, they conspired his death, and hired two assassins to murder him on his return from Como to Milan. The ruffians lay in ambush for him on his road, and one of them, Carinus by name, gave him two cuts on the head with an axe, and then stabbed his companion, called Dominic. Seeing Peter rise on his knees, and hearing him recommend himself to God by those words: Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my soul, and recite the creed, he dispatched him by a wound in the side with his cuttle-axe, on the 6th of April, in 1252, the saint being forty-six years and some days old. His body was pompously buried in the Dominicans’ church dedicated to St. Eustorgius, in Milan, where it still rests: his head is kept apart in a case of crystal and gold. The heretics were confounded at his heroic death, and at the wonderful miracles God wrought at his shrine; and in great numbers desired to be admitted into the bosom of the Catholic church. Carinus, the murderer of the martyr, fled out of the territory of Milan to the city of Forli, where, being struck with remorse, he renounced his heresy, put on the habit of a lay-brother among the Dominicans, and persevered in penance to the edification of many. St Peter was canonised the year after his death by Innocent IV, who appointed his festival to be kept on the 29th of April…
Our divine Redeemer was pleased to represent himself to us, both for a model to all who should exercise the pastoral charge in his church, and for the encouragement of sinners, under the figure of the good shepherd, who, having sought and found his lost sheep, with joy carried it back to the fold on his shoulders. The primitive Christians were so delighted with this emblem of his tender love and mercy, that they engraved the figure of the good shepherd, loaded with the lost sheep on his shoulders, on the sacred chalices which they used for the holy mysteries or at mass, as we learn from Tertullian. This figure is found frequently represented in the tombs of the primitive Christians in the ancient Christian cemeteries at Rome. All pastors of souls ought to have continually before their eyes this example of the good shepherd and prince of pastors. The aumusses, or furs, which most canons, both secular and regular, wear, are a remnant of the skins or furs worn by many primitive pastors for their garments. They wore them not only as badges of a penitential life, in imitation of those saints in the Old Law who wandered about in poverty, clad with skins, as St. Paul describes them (Heb, xi. 37), and of St. Antony and many other primitive Christian anchorets, but chiefly to put them in mind of their obligation of imitating the great pastor of souls in seeking the lost sheep, and carrying it back on his shoulders: also of putting on his meekness, humility, and obedience, represented under his adorable title of Lamb of God, and that of sheep devoted to be immolated by death. Every Christian, in conforming himself spiritually to this divine model, must study daily to die more and more to himself and to the world. In the disposition of his soul, he must also be ready to make the sacrifice of his life.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – The Paschal Time, Vol. II, Dublin, Edition 1871;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. I, 1903; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume I, 1806.
St. Peter of Verona, pray for us.