August 13, 2021: SS. HIPPOLYTUS AND CASSIAN
August 13, 2021: COMMEMORATION OF SS. HIPPOLYTUS AND CASSIAN, MARTYRS
For to them belongs the kingdom of heaven, who despising the life of this world have obtained the rewards of the kingdom, and washed their garments in the blood of the Lamb.
Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that the sacred solemnity of thy holy Martyrs, Hippolytus and Cassianus, may be to us an increase of devotion, and a help to our salvation. 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.
Not far from the sepulchre of St. Laurence, on the opposite side of the Tiburtian Way, lies the tomb of St. Hippolytus, one of the sanctuaries most dear to the Christians in the days of triumph. Prudentius has described the magnificence of the crypt, and the immense concourse attracted to it each year on the Ides of August. Who was this Saint? Of what rank and manner of life? What facts of his history are there to be told, beyond that of his having given his blood for Christ? All these questions have in modern times become the subject of numerous and learned works. He was a martyr, and that is nobility enough to make him glorious in our eyes. Let us honour him then, and together with him another soldier of Christ, Cassian of Immola, whom the Church offers to our homage at the same time. Hippolytus was dragged by wild horses over rocks and briars till his body was all torn: Cassian, who was a schoolmaster, was delivered by the judge to the children he had taught, and died of the thousands of wounds inflicted by their styles. The prince of Christian poets has sung of him as of Hippolytus, describing his combat and his tomb.
Another account of St. Hippolytus
One of the most illustrious martyrs who suffered in the reign of Gallus was St. Hippolytus, one of the twenty-five priests of Rome, who had the misfortune for sometime to have been deceived by the hypocrisy of Novatian and Novatus, and to hare been engaged in their schism; but this fault he expiated by his public repentance and a glorious martyrdom. He was apprehended, and interrogated on the rack in Rome; but the prefect of the city, having filled it with Christian blood, went to Ostia to extend the persecution in those parts of the country, and ordered our saint and several other Christians who were then in prison at Rome, to be conducted thither after him. St. Hippolytus being brought out of prison, many of those who had been under his care came to beg his last advice and blessing as he was going to martyrdom; and he vehemently exhorted them to preserve the unity of the church. “Fly,” said he, “from the unhappy Novatus, and return to the Catholic Church. Adhere to the only faith which subsists from the beginning, which was preached by Paul, and is maintained by the chair of Peter. I now see things in a different light, and repent of what I once taught.” After he had thus undeceived his flock, and earnestly recommended to all the unity of holy faith, he was conducted to Ostia. The prefect, who was gone before the prisoners the same day, as soon as they arrived, ascended his tribunal, surrounded with his executioners and various instruments of torture. The confessors were ranged in several companies before him, and by their emaciated faces, the length of their hair, and the filth with which they were covered, showed how much they had suffered by their long imprisonment. The judge, finding that he was not able to prevail with any of them by torments, at length condemned them all to be put to death. Some he caused to be beheaded, others to be crucified, others burnt, and some to be put out to sea in rotten vessels, which immediately foundered. When the venerable old man, Hippolytus, was in his turn brought to him loaded with chains, a crowd of young people cried out to the judge that he was a chief among the Christians, and ought to be put to death by some new and remarkable kind of punishment. “What is his name?” said the prefect. They answered, “Hippolytus.” The prefect said, “Then let him be treated like Hippolytus, and dragged by wild horses.” By this sentence he alluded to Hippolytus, the son of Theseus, who, flying from the indignation of his father, met a monster, the sight of which affrighted his horses, so that he fell from his chariot, and, being entangled in the harness, was dragged along, and torn to pieces. No sooner was the order given, but the people set themselves to work in assisting the executioners. Out of the country, where untamed horses were kept, they took a pair of the most furious and unruly they could meet with, and tied a long rope between them instead of a pole, to which they fastened the martyr's feet. Then they provoked the horses to run away by loud cries, whipping and pricking them. The last words which the martyr was heard to say as they started, were, “Lord, they tear my body, receive thou my soul.” The horses dragged him away furiously into the woods, through brooks, and over ditches, briers, and rocks; they beat down the hedges, and broke through everything that came in their way. The ground, the thorns, trees, and stones, were sprinkled with his blood, which the faithful that followed him at a distance weeping, respectfully sucked up from every place with spunges, and they gathered together all the mangled parts of his flesh and limbs, which lay scattered all about. They brought these precious relics to Rome, and buried them in the subterraneous caverns called catacombs, which Prudentius here describes at large. He says that the sacred remains of St. Hippolytus were deposited in this place near an altar, at which the faithful were fed with the heavenly banquet and the divine sacraments, and obtained the speedy effect of their requests to God. He testifies, that as often as he had prayed there when he was at Rome, for the remedy of his infirmities, whether of body or mind, he had always found the desired relief; but professes that he was indebted to Christ for all favours received, because he gave to his martyr Hippolytus the power to obtain for him the divine succour. He adds, that the chapel which contained these sacred relics shone within with solid silver, with which the walls were incrustated, and on the outside with the brightest marble, like looking-glass, which covered the walls, the whole being ornamented with abundance of gold. He says, that from the rising to the setting of the sun, not only the inhabitants of Rome, but many from remote countries, resorted in great numbers to this holy place, to pay adoration to God; and that especially on the martyr's festival, on the Ides, or 13th of August, both senators and people came thither to implore the divine mercy, and kiss the shrine which contained the relics. He moreover describes a sumptuous great church which was built in honour of the martyr, near his tomb, and which was thronged with multitudes of devout Christians. He mentions the effigies of the saint's martyrdom skilfully drawn over his tomb.
It is the reflection of St. Austin, that if, with the martyrs, we seriously considered the rewards that await us, we should account all trouble and pains in this life as nothing, and should be astonished that the divine bounty gives so great a salary for so little honour. To obtain eternal rest, should require, if it had been possible, eternal labour; to purchase a happiness without bounds, a man should be willing to suffer for a whole eternity. That, indeed, is impossible; but our trials might have been very long. What are a thousand years, or ten hundred thousand ages, in comparison to eternity? There can be no proportion between what is finite, and that which is infinite. Yet God, in his great mercy, does not bid us suffer so long. He says, not a million, or a thousand years, or even five hundred; but only labour the few years that you live; and in these the dew of my consolations shall not be wanting; and I will recompense your patience for all with a glory that has no end. Though we were to be loaded with miseries, pain, and grief our whole life, the thoughts of heaven alone ought to make us bear its sharpest trials with cheerfulness and joy.
Martyrdom of St. Cassian
Cassian was a schoolmaster at Forum Syllӕ, the modern Imola. On the breaking out of persecution—which one is not stated—he refused to venerate idols. He was therefore given over to be murdered by his scholars. The ferocious young tigers set on him with their iron pens, tore his flesh with the points, and cut his head with their slates, till the old man sank down weltering in his blood, and died between their feet.
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;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. IX; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
Ss. Hippolytus and Cassian, pray for us.