June 26, 2021: SS. JOHN AND PAUL
June 26, 2021: SS. JOHN AND PAUL, MARTYRS
These are the two olive trees and the two candlesticks giving light before the Lord: they have power to close heaven that the clouds rain not, and to open the gates thereof, for their tongues are made keys of heaven.
These are the holy ones, who for Christ's love contemned the threats of men: in the kingdom of heaven the holy martyrs exult with the Angels, oh! how precious is the death of the Saints who constantly stand before the Lord, and are never separated from one another.
We beseech thee, O Almighty God, that we may receive this day a double joy from the glorious solemnity of thy blessed Martyrs, John and Paul, who, in their faith and sufferings, were truly brothers. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in unity of the Holy Ghost, God, World without end. Amen.
Amidst the numerous Sanctuaries which adorn the Capital of the Christian universe, the Church of Saints John and Paul has remained from the early date of its origin, one of the chief centres of Roman piety. From the summit of the Cœlian Hill it towers over the Coliseum, the dependances of which stretch subterraneously even as far as the cellarage of the house once inhabited by our Saints. They, the last of the Martyrs, completed the glorious crown offered unto Christ, by Rome, the chosen seat of his power. The conflict in which their blood was spilt, consummated the triumph whose hour was sounded under Constantine, but which an offensive retaliation on the part of hell, seemed about to compromise.
No attack could be conceived more odious for the Church, than that devised by the apostate Cӕsar. Nero and Diocletian had violently and with hatred, declared against the Incarnate God, a war of sword and torture; and without recrimination, Christians, by thousands had died, knowing that the testimony thus demanded was merely the order of things, just as it had been in the case of their august Head (I Tim, vi. 13) before a Pontius Pilate, and upon the cross. But with the clever astuteness of a traitor, and the affected disdain of a false philosopher, Julian purposed to stifle Christianity amidst the bulrushes of an oppression progressive to a nicety, and respectfully abhorrent of human blood: merely to preclude Christians, from public offices, and to prohibit them from holding chairs for the teaching of youth,—that was all the apostate aimed at! However, the blood which he wanted to avoid shedding, must flow, even though a hypocrite's hands be dyed therewith; for according to the divine plan, bloodshed alone can bring extreme situations to an issue, and never was Holy Church menaced with greater peril: fain would they now make a slave of her whom they had beheld still holding her royal liberty in face of executioners,—fain would they now await the moment when, once enslaved, she would at last disappear of herself, in powerlessness and degradation. For this reason the bishops of that time found vent for their indignant soul, in accents such as their predecessors had spared to princes whose brute violence was then inundating the empire with Christian blood. They now retorted upon the tyrant, scorn for scorn; and the manifestations of contempt that consequently came showering in, from every quarter upon the crowned fool, completely unmasked at last his feigned moderation: Julian was now shown up, as nothing but a common persecutor of the usual kind,—blood flowed, the Church was rescued.
Thus is explained the gratitude which this noble Bride of the Son of God, has never ceased to manifest, to these glorious Martyrs we are celebrating, today: for amidst the many generous Christians whose out-spoken indignation brought about the solution of this terrible crisis, none are more illustrious than they. Julian was most anxious to count them amongst his confidants: with this view, he made use of every entreaty, as we learn from the Breviary Lessons,—nor does it appear that he even made the renouncing of Jesus Christ, a condition. Well then, it may be retorted, why not yield to the Imperial whim? could they not do so without wounding their conscience? Surely too much stiffness would be the rather calculated to ill-dispose the prince, perhaps even fatally. Whereas to listen to him would very likely have a soothing effect upon him; nay, possibly even bring him round to relax somewhat of those administrative trammels, unfortunately imposed upon the Church by his prejudiced government. Yea, for aught one knew, the possible conversion of his soul, the return of so many of the misled who had followed him in his fall, might be the result! Should not such things as these deserve some consideration,—should they not impose, as a duty, some gentle handling? Ah! yes; such reasoning as this would doubtless appear to some, as wise policy: such preoccupation for the apostate's salvation could easily have had nothing in it but what was inspired by zeal for the Church and for souls; and indeed the most exacting casuist could not find it a crime for John and Paul to dwell in a court, where nothing was demanded of them contrary to the divine precepts. Nevertheless the two brothers resolved otherwise; to the course of soothing and reserve making, they preferred that of the frank expression of their sentiments, and this bold out-speaking of theirs put the tyrant in a fury and brought about their death. The Church has judged their case, and she has found them not in the wrong; hence, it is unlikely that the former path would have led them to a like degree of sanctity, in God's sight.
The names of John and Paul inscribed on the sacred diptychs show well enough their credit in the eyes of the Divine Victim, who never offers Himself to the God Thrice-Holy, without blending their memory with that of His own immolation. The enthusiasm excited by the noble attitude of these two valiant witnesses to the Lord, still re-echoes in the Antiphons and Responsories proper to the Feast. It was formerly preceded by a Vigil and fast; together with the sanctuary which encloses their tomb, it may be said to date as far back as the very morrow of their martyrdom. Granted by a singular privilege a place in the Leonian Sacramentary, whilst so many other martyrs slept their sleep of peace outside the walls of the Holy City, John and Paul reposed in Rome itself, the definitive conquest of which had been won for the God of armies, by their gallant combat. That very same day of the year immediately succeeding their victorious death (June 26, 363),—Julian fell dead, uttering against heaven his cry of rage: “Galilean, Thou hast conquered!”
From the Queen City of the universe, their renown, passing beyond the mountains, shone forth, almost as soon and with nearly equal splendour, in the Gauls. Returned from the scene of his own struggle in the cause of the Divinity of Jesus Christ, Hilary of Poitiers at once propagated their cultus. This great Bishop was called to our Lord, scarce five years after their martyrdom; but he had already found time to consecrate to their name, the church in which his loving hands had laid his sweet daughter Abra and her mother, awaiting the hour when he too should be joined to them in the same spot, expecting the day of the Resurrection. It was from this very church of Saints John and Paul, called later on St. Hilary the Great's, that Clovis on the eve of the battle of Vouillé beheld streaming towards him that mysterious light, presage of the victory which would result in the expulsion of Arianism from the Gauls, and in the foundation of monarchical unity. These holy Martyrs continued, in after years, to show the interest they took in the advancement of the kingdom of God, by the Franks. When the disastrous issue of the second Crusade was filling the soul of St. Bernard with bitterness, for he had preached it,—they appeared to him, upraised his courage, and manifested by what secrets, the King of Heaven had known how to draw His own glory, out of events in which man saw only failure and disaster.
Let us now read the simple and touching Legend consecrated by the Church to the two Brethren.
John and Paul, Roman brethren, fed the poor of Christ out of the riches left to them by Constantia, Constantine's daughter, whom they had faithfully and piously served. Being invited into the number of his familiars, by Julian the Apostate, they boldly refused, declaring that they had no wish to be in company of one who had forsaken Jesus Christ. Whereupon, he gave them ten days for deliberation, at the end of which term, they must know for certain they were to die, unless they would consent to attach themselves to him and to sacrifice to Jupiter.
They, meanwhile, employed the time in distributing the remainder of their goods to the poor, so that they might the quicker go to the Lord, and that there might be more persons helped by them, through whose means they might be received into the eternal tabernacles. On the tenth day, Terentianus Prefect of the prӕtorian guard was sent to them, bringing with him the statue of Jupiter, that they might worship it, and he expounded unto them the Emperor's mandate: to wit, that unless they would pay homage to Jupiter, they must forthwith die. They, still continuing their prayer, replied that they hesitated not to suffer death for the faith of Christ, whom they with both mind and mouth did adore as God.
Now Terentianus was afraid lest there should ensue a popular tumult were they executed in public, so there and then, on the sixth of the Kalends of July, and in their own house, their heads being struck off, they were secretly buried; whilst the rumour was spread abroad that John and Paul had been sent into banishment. But their death was published by the unclean spirits that began to torment a number of persons whose bodies they possessed: amongst whom was the son of Terentianus, who being troubled by a devil, was led to the sepulchre of the martyrs and there freed. By the which miracle, both he and his father Terentianus believed in Christ; Terentianus himself, as it is said, afterwards wrote the history of their blessed Martyrdom.
Another account of Ss. John and Paul.
They were both officers in the army under Julian the Apostate, and received the crown of martyrdom, probably in 362, under Apronianus, prefect of Rome, a great enemy of the Christians. These saints glorified God by a double victory: they despised the honours of the world, and triumphed over its threats and torments. They saw many wicked men prosper in their impiety, but were not dazzled by their example. They considered that worldly prosperity which attends impunity in sin is the most dreadful of all judgments; and how false and short-lived was this glittering prosperity of Julian, who in a moment fell into the pit which he himself had dug! But the martyrs, by the momentary labour of their conflict, purchased an immense weight of never-fading glory: their torments were, by their heroic patience and invincible virtue and fidelity, a spectacle worthy of God, who looked down upon them from the throne of his glory, and held his arm stretched out to strengthen them, and to put on their heads immortal crowns in the happy moment of their victory.
The saints always accounted that they had done nothing for Christ so long as they had not resisted to blood, and by pouring forth the last drop completed their sacrifice. Every action of our lives ought to spring from this fervent motive, and consecration of ourselves to the divine service with our whole strength; we must always bear in mind that we owe to God by innumerable titles all that we are; and, after all we can do, are unprofitable servants, and do only what we are bound to do. But how base are our sloth and ingratitude, who in every action fall so much short of this fervour and duty! How does the blood of the martyrs reproach our lukewarmness!
The Liturgical Year – Time After Pentecost, Vol. III, Dublin, Edition 1890;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. VI, 1866; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
Ss. John and Paul, pray for us.