July 28, 2021: SS. NAZARIUS, CELSUS, POPE VICTOR I, & POPE INNOCENT I
July 28, 2021: SS. NAZARIUS AND CELSUS MARTYRS, VICTOR I POPE AND MARTYR, AND ST. INNOCENT I POPE AND CONFESSOR
Glorious Saints, who, either by shedding your blood in the arena or by promulgating decrees from the Apostolic Chair, have exalted the faith of the Lord, bless our prayers.
We beseech thee, O Lord, that the constancy of holy Nazarius, Celsus, Victor, and Innocentius, thy servants, in the profession of their faith, may be a help to us, and a means of obtaining from thee strength in all our infirmities. 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.
Nazarius and Celsus bring glory to the Church of Milan, by appearing on the cycle to-day. After lying forgotten for three centuries in the obscure tomb that had received their precious remains in the time of Nero, they now receive the united homage of East and West. It was nine years since the triumphal day when Gervase and Protase, no less forgotten by the city once witness of their combat, had come to console and strengthen an illustrious Bishop who was persecuted for his profession of the Divine consubstantiality of the same Christ who had had all their love and faith. Ambrose, loved by the martyrs, though denied their palm, was soon to receive the white wreath of confession in reward for his holy works, when heaven revealed to him a new treasure, the discovery of which was again “to illustrate the times of his episcopate.” Theodosius was no more; Ambrose was about to die; the barbarians were at the gates. But as if, simultaneous with the threat of imminent destruction to the ancient world, the hour for the first resurrection spoken of by St. John had sounded, the martyrs rose from their tombs to reign a thousand years with Christ on the renovated earth.
That great Babylon is fallen, is fallen, which made all nations to drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication; and in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth (Apoc, xiv. 8; xviii. 24). The great Pope Innocent I, whose memory seems to have been purposely united with that of the martyrs, bears witness to the deluge, wherein, during his Pontificate, pagan Rome at length perished utterly, and made way for the new Jerusalem come down from heaven. Like the ancient Sion, the Rome of the Cӕsars would not yield to the offers of that God, who alone could fulfil her desires of immortality. Even since the triumph of the Cross under Constantine, no city of the empire had remained so obstinately given to the worship of idols, or shed so much of that noble blood which might have renewed her youth. And yet after the defeat of her vain idols, God, in his patience, determined to wait a century longer, the last decade of which was a series of salutary threats and merciful interventions, the evident work of the Christ whom she still obstinately repulsed. The incursions of the Goths, allies one day, enemies the next, everywhere spreading anarchy, gave her an opportunity of returning to superstitions which the Christian Emperors had not tolerated; and in her dotage she welcomed the Tuscan soothsayers who had come to help her against Alaric, and allowed them to re-establish the worship of idols. Terrible was her awakening when, on the morning of August 24th, 410, the true God of armies took his revenge; and while the barbarians were engaged in wholesale massacre and pillage, lightning set fire to the town and destroyed the statues in which she had so long placed her confidence and her glory.
The avengers of God, destroying Babylon, spared the tombs of the two founders of the eternal Rome. On these Apostolic foundations Innocent began to rebuild the holy City. Soon on her seven hills, purified by fire, she rose again, more brilliant than ever, the destined centre of the world of mind. It was in the year 417, the last of Innocent's Pontificate, that St. Augustine, hearing that the Pelagian heresy was condemned, cried out: “Letters have arrived from Rome; the dispute is at an end.” The Councils of Carthage and Milevum, which on this occasion had requested the confirmation of their decree by the Apostolic See, did in this but continue the uninterrupted tradition of the Churches with regard to the supremacy of their Mother and Mistress. This fact is eloquently attested by the holy Pope Victor, who shares with the martyrs the honours of to-day. His great name calls to mind the Councils of the second century, held by his orders throughout the Church to treat of the celebration of Easter; the condemnation he pronounced, or intended to pronounce, against the Churches of Asia, without any one questioning his right to do so; lastly, the uncontroverted anathemas he hurled against Montanus and the precursors of Arius.
Let us read the notice of our four Saints given in to-day's Office:
Nazarius was baptized by the blessed Pope, Linus. He went into Gaul, and there baptized a child named Celsus whom he had instructed in the Christian doctrine. Together they went to Treves, and in Nero's persecution were both thrown into the sea, but were saved by a miracle. They proceeded to Milan, where they spread the faith of Christ; and as they with great constancy confessed Christ to be God, the prefect, Anolinus, condemned them to death. Their bodies were buried outside the Roman gate, and for a long time remained unknown. But through a divine revelation they were found by St. Ambrose, sprinkled with fresh blood, as if they had but just suffered martyrdom. They were translated to the city and buried in an honourable tomb.
Victor, an African by birth, governed the Church in the time of the Emperor Severus. He confirmed the decree of Pius I, which ordered Easter to be celebrated on a Sunday. Later on, Councils were held in many places in order to bring this rule into practice, and finally the first Council of Nicea commanded that the feast of Easter should be always kept after the 14th day of the moon, lest the Christians should seem to imitate the Jews. Victor ordained that in case of necessity, baptism could be given with any water, provided it were natural. He expelled from the Church the Byzantine, Theodosius the Currier, who taught that Christ was only man. He wrote on the question of Easter, and some other small works. In two ordinations which he held in the month of December, he made four priests, seven deacons, and twelve bishops for different places. He was crowned with martyrdom, and buried on the Vatican on the 5th of the Calends of August, after having sat nine years, one month, and twenty-eight days.
Innocent, by nation an Albanian, lived at the time of Saints Jerome and Augustine. Jerome, writing to the virgin Demetrias, says of him: “Hold fast to the faith of holy Innocent, who is the son of Anastasius of blessed memory and his successor on the Apostolic throne; receive no strange doctrine, however shrewd and prudent you may think yourself.” Orosius writes that like the just Lot, he was withdrawn by God's providence from Rome, and preserved in safety at Ravenna, that he might not be a witness of the ruin of the Roman people. After the condemnation of Pelagius and Celestinus, he decreed, contrary to their heretical teaching, that children, even though born of a Christian mother, must be born again by water, in order that their second birth may cleanse away the stain they have contracted by the first. He also approved the observance of fasting on the Saturday in memory of the burial of Christ our Lord. He sat fifteen years, one month, and ten days. He held four ordinations in the month of December, and made thirty priests, fifteen deacons, and fifty-four bishops for divers places. He was buried in the cemetery called ad ursum Pileatum.
Another account of Ss. Nazarius and Celsus.
(About the year 68)
St. Nazarius's father was a heathen, and enjoyed a considerable post in the Roman army. His mother Perpetua was a zealous Christian, and was instructed by St. Peter, or his disciples, in the most perfect maxims of our holy faith. Nazarius embraced it with so much ardour, that he copied in his life all the great virtues he saw in his teachers; and out of zeal for the salvation of others left Rome, his native city, and preached the faith in many places with a fervour and disinterestedness becoming a disciple of the apostles. Arriving at Milan he was there beheaded for the faith, together with Celsus, a youth whom he carried with him to assist him in his travels. These martyrs suffered soon after Nero had raised the first persecution. Their bodies were buried separately in a garden without the city, where they were discovered and taken up by St. Ambrose, in 395. In the tomb of St. Nazarius a vial of the saint's blood was found as fresh and red as if it had been spilt that day. The faithful stained handkerchiefs with some drops, and also formed a certain paste with it; a portion of which St. Ambrose sent to St. Gaudentius, Bishop of Brescia. St. Ambrose conveyed the bodies of the two martyrs into the new church of the apostles, which he had just built. A woman was delivered of an evil spirit in their presence. St. Ambrose sent some of these relics to St. Paulinus of Nola, who received them with great respect, as a most valuable present, as he testifies.
The martyrs died as the outcasts of the world, but are crowned by God with immortal honour. The glory of the world is false and transitory, and an empty bubble or shadow; but that of virtue is true, solid, and permanent, even in the eyes of men: for, to use the comparison of St. Basil, as the more we look upon the sun the more we admire it, and by reviewing it never find it less bright or less beautiful, so the memory of the martyrs which we celebrate, after so many years, is only more fresh in our minds, and will be more flourishing in all ages to come.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. IV, Dublin, Edition 1901;
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.
Ss. Nazarius and Celsus, Pope St. Victor I, and Pope St. Innocent I, pray for us.