October 5, 2018: ST. PLACID AND COMPANIONS
October 5, 2018: COMMEMORATION OF ST. PLACID AND COMPANIONS, MARTYRS
Blessed be thou, O Placid, far beyond thy native Italy, and Sicily the scene of thy combat. Blessed be thou for the numberless ears of corn, for the abundant harvest sprung from the choice grain that fell to the earth on this day: faith bids us see in thy immolation the secret of the success granted to the monastic mission of Maurus.
Deign, O Placid, to continue thy interest in the extension of Christ’s reign upon earth, in the progress of the perfect life in the Church, in the diffusion throughout the world of the monastic family, whereof thou art the glory. Noviciates especially are confided to thee: remembering the blessed education thou wast privileged to receive, watch over the aspirants to the ‘better part’.
O God, by whose favour, we celebrate the festival of thy holy Martyrs, Placid and Companions, grant we may enjoy their fellowship in eternal bliss. 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 protomartyr of the Benedictine Order stands before us to-day in his strength and in his beauty. The empire had fallen, and the yoke of the Arian Goths lay heavy upon Italy. Rome was no longer in the hands of the glorious races which had made her greatness; these, nevertheless, kept up their honourable traditions. They offered a great lesson, for future times of revolution, to other descendants of not less noble families: in lieu of the ensign of civic honour once committed to their fathers, the survivors of the old patrician ranks made it their duty to raise still higher the standard of true heroism, of those virtues which alone are everlasting. Thus Benedict of Nursia, fleeing into the desert, had rendered greater service than any mighty conqueror to Rome and her immortal destinies. The world soon discovered this fact; and then began, as St. Gregory tells us, the concourse of Roman nobles, bringing their children to the patriarch of monks, to be educated by him for almighty God.
Placid was the eldest son of the patrician Tertullus. The excellent qualities early discovered in the child led his worthy father to offer to God, without delay, this dear first-fruit of his paternity. In those days, parents loved their children not for this passing world, but for eternity; not for themselves, but for our Lord. The faith of Tertullus was well rewarded when, twenty years later, not only his first-born, but also his two other sons and their sister, were crowned with martyrdom. This was not the first holocaust of the kind in that heroic family, if it be true that they were relatives by blood, and heirs of the goods as well as of the virtues, of the holy martyr Eustace, who had been immolated four centuries earlier with his wife and sons.
Among the children of promise enlisted by the vanquished nobles of the ancient empire in the new militia of the holy valley, Equitius brought to Subiaco his son Maurus, a boy some years older than Placid. Henceforth the names of Maurus and Placid became inseparable from that of Benedict; and the patriarch acquired a new glory from his two sons, so united and yet so different.
Equal in their love of their master and father, and themselves equally loved by him for their equal fidelity in good works, they experienced to the full that delight in virtue which makes its practice a second nature. However similar their zeal in using ‘the most strong and bright armour of obedience,’ in the service of Christ the King, it was wonderful to see the master accommodating himself to the age of his disciples; so adapting himself to their differences of character, that there was nothing precipitate, nothing forced, in his education. It disciplined nature without crushing it, and followed the Holy Ghost without endeavouring to take the lead. In Maurus was especially reproduced Benedict’s austere gravity; in Placid his simplicity and sweetness. Benedict took Maurus to witness the chastisement inflicted on the wandering monk, who could not stay at prayer; but Placid accompanied him to the mountain-top, where his prayer obtained a spring of water to deliver from danger and fatigue the brethren dwelling on the rocks above the Anio. But when, walking along the river-side, holding Placid by the hand and leaning upon Maurus, the legislator of monks explained to them the code of perfection they were afterwards to propagate, the angels knew not which most to admire: the candour of the one, winning the father’s tenderest affection; or the precocious maturity of the other, meriting the holy patriarch’s confidence, and already sharing his burden.
Who does not recollect the admirable scene of Maurus walking on the water and saving Placid from drowning? Monastic traditions never weary of extolling the obedience of Maurus, Benedict’s humility, and the sagacious simplicity of the child pronouncing sentence as judge of the prodigy. Of such children the master could say from experience: ‘The Lord oftentimes revealeth that which is best, to him that is the younger.’ And we may well believe that the recollections of the holy valley prompted him, later on, to lay down in his rule this prescription: ‘In all places whatsoever, let not age be taken into account as regardeth order, neither let it be to the prejudice of anyone; for Samuel and Daniel, while yet children, were judges over the elders.’
The following lessons, taken from the monastic breviary, will complete the account of Placid’s life, and relate the manner of his death. In 1588, the discovery of the martyrs’ relics at Messina confirmed the truth of their Acts. On this occasion, Pope Sixtus V extended the celebration of their feast, under the rite of a simple, to the universal Church. [In 1955, Pope Pius XII, had reduced it to a commemoration, along with all the feasts of Simple rite.]
Placid, a Roman by birth and son of Tertullus, belonged to the noble family of the Anicii. Offered to God while still a child, he was entrusted to St. Benedict, and made such progress in sanctity and in the monastic life, as to become one of his principal disciples. He was present when the holy father obtained from God by prayer a fountain of water in the solitude of Subiaco. While still a boy, being sent one day to draw water, he fell into the lake, but was miraculously saved by the monk Maurus, who at the command of the holy father ran dry-shod over the water. Later on he accompanied St. Benedict to Monte Cassino. At the age of twenty-one, he was sent into Sicily, to defend, against certain covetous persons, the goods and lands which his father had given to Monte Cassino. On the way he performed so many great miracles, that he arrived at Messina with a reputation for sanctity. He built a monastery on his paternal estate, not far from the harbour, and gathered together thirty monks; being thus the first to introduce the monastic life into the island.
Nothing could be more placid or more humble than his behaviour; while he surpassed everyone in prudence, gravity, kindness, and unruffled tranquillity of mind. He often spent whole nights in the contemplation of heavenly things, only sitting down for a short time when overpowered by the necessity of sleep. He was most zealous in observing silence; and when it was necessary to speak, the subjects of his conversation were the contempt of the world and the imitation of Christ. His fasts were most severe, and he abstained all the year round from flesh and every kind of milk-meat. In Lent he took only bread and water on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays; the rest of the week he passed without any food. He never drank wine, and always wore a hairshirt. So numerous and so remarkable were the miracles he worked, that the sick came to him in crowds to be cured, not only from the neighbourhood, but also from Etruria and Africa. But Placid, in his great humility, worked all his miracles in the name of St. Benedict, attributing them to his merits.
His holy example and the wonders he wrought caused the Christian faith to spread rapidly. In the fifth year after his arrival in Sicily, the Saracens made a sudden incursion, and seized upon Placid and his thirty monks while they were singing the night Office in the church. At the same time were taken Eutychius and Victorinus, Placid’s brothers, and his sister the virgin Flavia, who had all come from Rome to visit him; and also Donatus, Faustus, and the deacon Firmatus. Donatus was beheaded on the spot. The rest were taken before Manucha, the chief of the pirates; and as they firmly refused to adore his idols, they were beaten with rods, and cast, bound hand and foot, into prison, without food. Every day they were beaten afresh, but God supported them. After many days, they were again led before the tyrant; and as they still stood firm in the faith, they were again repeatedly beaten, then stript of their clothes, and hung, head downwards, over thick smoke to suffocate. They were left for dead, but the next day were found alive, and miraculously healed of their wounds.
The tyrant then addressed himself to the virgin Flavia apart. But finding he could gain nothing by threats or promises, he ordered her to be stript, and hung by the feet from a high beam, insulting her meanwhile upon her nakedness. But the virgin answered: Man and woman have the same author and Creator, God; hence neither my sex, nor this nakedness which I endure for love of him will be any disadvantage to me in his eyes, who for my sake chose not only to be stript, but also to be nailed to a cross. Manucha enraged at this reply ordered her to be beaten, and tortured with the smoke, and then handed her over to be dishonoured. At the virgin’s prayer, God struck all who attempted to approach her, with sudden stiffness and pain in all their limbs. The tyrant next attacked Placid, the virgin’s brother, who tried to convince him of the vanity of his idols; Manucha there upon commanded his mouth and teeth to be broken with stones, and his tongue to be cut out by the root; but the martyr spoke as clearly and easily as before. The barbarian grew more furious at this miracle, and commanded that Placid, with his sister and brethren should be crushed under an enormous weight of anchors and millstones; but even this torture was powerless to hurt them. Finally, thirty-six of Placid’s family, with their leader, and several others, were beheaded on the shore near Messina, and gained the palm of martyrdom on the third of the Nones of October... Gordian, a monk of that monastery, who had escaped by flight, found all their bodies entire after several days, and buried them with tears. Not long afterwards the barbarians, in punishment of their crime, were swallowed up by the avenging waves of the sea.
Another account of St. Placid and Companions
The reputation of the great sanctity of St. Benedict, whilst he lived at Subluco, being spread abroad, the noblest families in Rome brought their children to him to be educated by him in his monastery. Equitus committed to his care, in 522, his son Maurus, then twelve years of age, and the patrician Tertullud his son Placidus, who was no more than seven. St. Gregory relates, that Placidus being fallen into the lake of Subluco, as he was fetching some water in a pitcher, St. Benedict, who was in the monastery, immediately knew this accident, and, calling Maurus, said to him, “Brother, run, make haste; the child is fallen into the water.” Maurus, having begged his blessing, ran to the lake, and walked upon the water, above a bow-shot from the land to the place where Placidus was floating, and taking hold of him by the hair, returned with the same speed. Being got to the land, and looking behind him, he saw he had walked upon the water, which he had not perceived till then. St. Benedict ascribed this miracle to the disciple's obedience; but St. Maurus attributed it to the command and blessing of the abbot, maintaining that he could not work a miracle without knowing it. Placidus decided the dispute by saying, “When I was taken out of the water, I saw the abbot's melotes upon my head, and himself helping me out.” The melotes was a sheep's skin worn by monks upon their shoulders. We must observe that St. Placidus, being very young, had not yet received the monastic tonsure and habit. This miraculous corporal preservation of Placidus may be regarded as an emblem of the wonderful invisible preservation of his soul by divine grace from the spiritual shipwreck of sin. He advanced daily in holy wisdom, and in the perfect exercise of all virtues, so that his life seemed a true copy of that of his master and guide, the glorious St. Benedict; who, seeing the great progress which divine grace made in his tender heart, always loved him as one of the dearest among his spiritual children, and took him with him to Mount Cassino, in 528. The senator Tertullus, principal founder of this monastery, made them a visit soon after their arrival there, saw with pleasure the rising virtue of his son Placidus, and bestowed on St. Benedict part of the estates which he possessed in that country, and others in Sicily. The holy patriarch founded another monastery upon these latter near Messina, a great city with a fine harbour, upon the straits which part Italy from Sicily. Of this new colony St. Placidus was made abbot. St. Placidus is supposed to have gone to Sicily in 541, a little before the holy patriarch's death, being about twenty-six years of age. He there founded a monastery at Messina. The spirit of the monastic state being that of penance and holy retirement, the primitive founders of this holy institute were particularly watchful entirely to shut the world out of their monasteries, and to guard all the avenues through which it could break in upon their solitude. This spirit St. Placidus had learned from his great instructor, and the same he instilled into his religious brethren. He had not lived many years in Sicily before a pagan barbarian, with a fleet of pirates from Africa rather than from Spain, then occupied by Arian Goths, not by pagans, landed in Sicily, and out of hatred of the Christian name, and the religious profession of these servants of God, put St. Placidus and his fellow-monks to the sword, and burnt their monastery, about the year 546.
All true monks devote themselves to God; they separate themselves from the world, and do not entangle themselves in secular business, that they may more easily seek perfectly and with their whole hearts, not those things which are upon earth, but those which are in heaven. This is the duty of every Christian, as Origen elegantly observes, and as St. Paul himself teaches, according to the divine lessons of our blessed Redeemer. For to be dead to the world, and to live to Christ, is the part of all who are truly his disciples. Those who live in the world must so behave as not to be of the world. They must be assiduously conversant in prayer and other exercises of religion. Their work itself must be sanctified and dedicated to God by the like motives with which the ancient monks applied themselves to penitential manual labour, or to external spiritual functions.
The trials of the present must prepare the monastic Order, and indeed the whole religious state, for the trials of the future. It is around the monks that the martyrs of the last days will gather, as around thee assembled the Christians of Messina, and thy two brothers, and the heroic Flavia, so truly worthy to be doubly thy sister. May the chosen flock increase, and be ever united; so as to be able to say with one voice to the persecutors both present and future: ‘Do what you mean to do; for we are all of one mind, one faith, one manner of life.’
Taken from: The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. V, Edition 1910;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. II; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
St. Placid and Companions, pray for us.