May 30, 2020: POPE ST. FELIX I
May 30, 2020: COMMEMORATION OF ST. FELIX I, POPE AND MARTYR
This saint fought even unto death for the law of his God, and feared not the words of the wicked; for he was founded on a firm rock.
Have regard, O Almighty God, to our weakness, and, as we sink under the weight of our doings, let the glorious intercession of blessed Felix, thy Martyr and Bishop, be a protection to us. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in unity of the Holy Ghost, God, World without end. Amen.
The holy Popes of the primitive ages of the Church abound during these last days of our Paschal Season. To-day, we have Felix the First, a Martyr of the persecution under Aurelian, in the 3rd Century. His Acts have been lost, with the exception of this one detail; that he proclaimed the dogma of the Incarnation, with admirable precision, in a Letter addressed to the Church of Alexandria,—a passage of which was read, with much applause, at the two Œcumenical Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon.
We also learn from a law he passed for those troubled times of the Church, that this holy Pontiff was zealous in procuring for the Martyrs the honour that is due to them. He decreed, that the Holy Sacrifice should be offered up on their tombs. The Church has kept up a remnant of this law, by requiring, that all Altars, whether fixed or portable, must have, amongst the Relics that are placed in them, a portion of some belonging to the Martyrs.
The Liturgy gives us this short notice regarding the holy Pontiff.
Felix, a Roman by birth, and son of Constantius, governed the Church during the reign of the emperor Aurelian. He decreed that the Mass should be celebrated upon the shrines and tombs of the Martyrs. He held two ordinations in the month of December, and made nine Priests, five Deacons, and five Bishops for divers places. He was crowned with Martyrdom, and was buried on the Aurelian Way, in a Basilica which he himself had built and dedicated. He reigned two years, four months, and twenty-nine days.
Life of Pope St. Felix I
(from the Lives and Times of the Popes, Imprimatur, 1911)
The successor of Saint Dionysius, Saint Felix I, was the son of Constantius. He ordered, or perhaps only confirmed the custom, that Masses, termed memorials, should be celebrated on the tombs of the martyrs, and that the altars should be consecrated and have relics of martyrs placed in them. He also prescribed the rite for the dedication of churches. Felix continued to be watchful respecting the false doctrines of the innovators who endeavored to corrupt the purity of the faith. Just as Christians were deploring the wounds inflicted on the Church by the heresiarch Sabellius, there appeared a new assailant, Paul of Samosata, Bishop of Antioch. He regarded religion only as the instrument of avarice, luxury, and vanity. Licentious and inflated with worldly pride, a theatrical performer rather than a sacred orator, a rapacious priest and a speculating bishop, corrupt in his own acts, and the corrupter of his flock, he was a Christian by accident, and by adulation made himself almost a Jew, for, in his eagerness to obtain favor with Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, who was inclined to Judaism, he Judaized his doctrines. The Council of Antioch, after having in three solemn assemblies convicted, condemned, and deposed that unworthy bishop, gave notice of that judgment to all the Catholic churches, and in particular, as was fit, to that of Rome. A letter was addressed to Pope Dionysius to instruct him of the judgment, but as that pope died before the letter reached Rome, it was received by Felix. On that occasion the courageous pontiff sent to Maximus, Bishop of Alexandria, a celebrated synodal, quoted by the Council of Ephesus, which condemned both the heresy of Sabellius and that of Paul of Samosata.
This latter heretic having, as we have stated, been deprived of his episcopate, Domnus was elected in his place. Such was the fury of the Samosatian that he refused to vacate the episcopal palace; and he persisted until the Emperor Aurelian himself, on the application of the Eastern Churches, ordered him to be expelled from the palace, that it might receive the bishop who was recognized by the Church of Rome and the Italian bishops. This proves that Aurelian, at the commencement of his reign, showed himself indulgent to the Christians; and Eusebius observes that at that time one might have said that the devil was asleep. It was not long ere he awoke, and excited that same Aurelian to order a persecution. It was not universal, and we may add that it was not of long duration, but it added, nevertheless, very many new names to the martyrology.
Felix was the first victim; he perished with that firmness which so well became one who may be pointed out as the model of the most shining virtues.
In two ordinations, in the month of December, he made five bishops, nine priests, and five deacons… He was interred in the cemetery on the Aurelian Way, about two miles from Rome, where subsequently a church was consecrated by Felix II.
The fury of the persecutor increased at every instant, and no doubt it was for that reason that the Holy See remained vacant only four days. A short time before the reign of Saint Felix, Catholicism had to lament the death of Saint Gregory the Thaumaturgist, Bishop of Neo-Caesarea. During the weak reign of Gallienus the Goths had overrun Thrace and Macedonia, whence they spread into Asia and Pontus. They plundered and burned the Temple of Diana. Those disorders gave occasion to some Christians to commit crimes. Suddenly Saint Gregory sent a canonical epistle to a bishop, pointing out different degrees of penance for those Christians who made themselves Goths by joining them in order to pillage. Fleury says: “Even the enemies of the Church have called Saint Gregory another Moses, on account of his miracles.”
The Liturgical Year - The Paschal Time, Vol. II, Dublin, Edition 1871;
The Lives and Times of the Popes, Imprimatur, 1911; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
Pope St. Felix I, pray for us.