September 28, 2021: ST. WENCESLAUS, DUKE OF BOHEMIA
September 28, 2021: ST. WENCESLAUS, DUKE (OF BOHEMIA), MARTYR
Thou didst win thy crown, O holy martyr, in the church of Saints Cosmas and Damian, whither their feast had attracted thee. As thou didst honour them, we now in turn honour thee.
O Wenceslas, fire us with that intrepid valour, which is ever humble and gentle, simple as God to whom it tends, calm as the angels on whom it relies. Succour the Church in these unfortunate times; the whole Church honours thee, she has a right to expect thy assistance.
O God, who, by a glorious martyrdom, wast pleased to remove blessed Wenceslaus from an earthly government to the kingdom of heaven: grant, that, by his prayers, we may be preserved from all adversity, and be at length admitted to have part in the same glory. 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.
Wenceslas recalls to us the entrance into the Church of a warlike nation, the Czechs, the most indomitable of the Slavonic tribes, which had penetrated into the very midst of Germany. It is well known, with what bitterness and active energy this nation upholds its social claims, as though its struggle for existence in the early days of its history had made it proof against every trial. The faith of its apostles and martyrs, the Roman faith, will be the safeguard, as it is the bond of union, of the countries subject to the crown of St. Wenceslas. Heresy, whether it be the native Hussite, or the ‘reform’ imported from Germany, can but lead the people to eternal ruin; may they never yield to the advances and seductions of schism! Wenceslas the martyr, grandson of the holy martyr Ludmilla, and great-uncle of the monk-bishop and martyr Adalbert, invites his faithful subjects to follow him in the only path where they may find honour and security both for this world and for the next.
Let us now read the legend of holy Church. The conversion of Bohemia dates from the latter part of the ninth century, when St. Methodius baptized St. Ludmilla and her husband Borziwoi the first Christian duke of the line of Premislas. The pagan reaction, during which St. Wenceslas gained the palm of martyrdom, was but shortlived.
Wenceslas, duke of Bohemia, was born of a Christian father, Wratislas, and a pagan mother, Drahomira. Brought up in piety by the holy woman Ludmilla his grandmother, he was adorned with every virtue and with the utmost care preserved his virginity unspotted throughout his life. His mother, having murdered Ludmilla, seized the reins of government; but her wicked life, and that of her younger son Boleslas excited the indignation of the nobles. These, wearied of a tyrannical and impious rule, threw off the yoke of both mother and son, and proclaimed Wenceslas king at Prague.
He ruled his kingdom rather by kindness than authority. He succoured orphans, widows, and all the poor with the greatest charity, sometimes even carrying wood on his shoulders, by night, to those in need of it. He frequently assisted at the funerals of poor persons, liberated captives, and often visited the prisoners during the night, assisting them with gifts and advice. It caused great sorrow to his tender heart to condemn even the guilty to death. He had the greatest reverence for priests; and with his own hands he would sow the corn and prepare the wine to be used in the sacrifice of the Mass. At night he used to go the round of the churches barefoot, through ice and snow, while his bloodstained footprints warmed the ground.
The angels formed his body-guard. In order to spare the lives of his soldiers, he undertook to fight in single combat with Radislas, duke of Gurima; but when the latter saw angels arming Wenceslas, and heard them forbidding him to strike, he was terrified and fell at the saint’s feet begging his forgiveness. On one occasion, when he had gone to Germany, the emperor, at his approach, saw two angels adorning him with a golden cross; whereupon, rising from his throne, he embraced the saint, bestowed on him the regal insignia, and presented him with the arm of St. Vitus. Nevertheless, instigated by their mother, his wicked brother invited him to a banquet, and then, together with some accomplices, killed him as he was praying in the church, aware of the death that awaited him. His blood is still to be seen sprinkled on the walls. God avenged his saint; the earth swallowed up the inhuman mother, and the murderers perished miserably in various ways.
Another account of St. Wenceslaus.
St. Wenceslas was son of Uratislas, Duke of Bohemia, and of Drahomira of Lucsko, and grandson of Borivor, the first Christian duke, and the blessed Ludmilla. His father was a valiant and good prince; but his mother was a pagan, and her heart was not less depraved, as to sentiments of morality, than as to those of religion. This princess was not less cruel than haughty, nor less perfidious than impious. She had two sons, Wenceslas and Boleslas. Ludmilla, who lived at Prague ever since the death of her husband, obtained, as the greatest of favours, that the education of the elder might be entrusted to her, and she undertook, with the utmost care and application, to form his heart to devotion and the love of God. In this task she was assisted by Paul, her chaplain, a man of great sanctity and prudence, who likewise cultivated the young prince's mind with the first rudiments of learning. The pious pupil perfectly corresponded with their endeavours, and with the divine grace which rendered him a saint from the cradle. At a convenient age he was sent to a college at Budweis, above sixty miles from Prague, where, under the direction of an excellent master, he made great progress in the sciences, and other exercises suitable to his rank, and much more in all the virtues which compose the character of a Christian and a saint.
He was yet young, when his father dying, his mother, Drahomira, assumed the title of regent, and seized on the government. Being no longer held in by any restraint, she gave a free loose to her rage against the Christians (which she had concealed whilst her husband lived), and published a severe order for shutting up all churches, prohibiting the exercise of our holy religion, and forbidding priests and all others who professed it to teach or instruct children. She repealed all the laws and regulations which Borivor and Uladislas had made in favour of the Christians; removed the Christian magistrates in all the towns in Bohemia, put heathens in their places; and employed only such officers as were blindly devoted to follow the dictates of her passions and tyranny; and these she incited every where to oppress the Christians, of whom great numbers were massacred. Ludmilla, sensibly afflicted at these public disorders, and full of concern for the interest of religion, which she and her consort had established with so much difficulty, by strong remonstrances showed Wenceslas the necessity of his taking the reins of the government into his own hands, promising to assist him with her directions and best advice. The young duke obeyed, and the Bohemians testified their approbation of his conduct; but, to prevent all disputes between him and his younger brother, they divided the country between them, assigning to the latter a considerable territory, which retains from him the name of Boleslavia, and is one of the chief circles of Bohemia.
Drahomira, enraged at these steps, secured herself an interest in Boleslas, her younger son, whose heart she had so far perverted as to taint him with the most execrable idolatry, hatred of the Christian religion, boundless ambition, and implacable cruelty. Wenceslas, on the other hand, pursuant to the impressions of virtue which he had received in his education, was more careful than ever to preserve the innocence of his morals, and acquire every day some new degree of Christian perfection. He directed all his views to the establishment of peace, justice, and religion in his dominions, and, by the advice of Ludmilla, chose able and zealous Christian ministers. After spending the whole day in acts of piety, and application to the affairs of state and of his court, he employed a great part of the night in prayer. Such was his devout veneration for the holy sacrament of the altar, that he thought it a great happiness to sow the corn, gather the grapes, and make the wine with his own hands, which were to be made use of at mass. It was his desire to shut himself up in a monastery, had not the necessities of his country and religion fixed him in a public station: however, amidst the distractions of government, he found rest for his soul in God, its centre. The good prince stood in need of this comfort and support amidst the storms with which he was assailed. Drahomira never ceased to conjure up all the furies of hell against him. Looking upon Ludmilla as the first mover of all counsels in favour of the Christian religion, she laid a plot to take away her life. Ludmilla was informed of it, and, without being disturbed, prepared herself for death. With this view she distributed her goods and money among her servants and the poor, confirmed the duke in his good resolutions for maintaining religion, made her confession to her chaplain Paul, and received the holy viaticum. The assassins found her prostrate in prayer before the altar in her domestic chapel, and, seizing on her, strangled her with her own veil. She is honoured in Bohemia as a martyr on the 16th of September.
This complicated crime was very sensible to St. Wenceslas; a circumstance which exceedingly aggravated his grief was, that so execrable an action should have been perpetrated by the direction of his mother. But he poured out his complaints to God alone, humbly adored his judgments and holy providence, and interceding for the conversion of his unnatural mother.
The Emperor Otho I having assembled a general diet at Worms, St. Wenceslas arrived at it late in the day, having been stopped by hearing a high mass on the road. Some of the princes took offence here at; but the emperor, who had the highest opinion of his sanctity, received him with great honour, would have him sit next his person, and bade him ask whatever he pleased, and it should be granted him. The saint asked an arm of the body of St. Vitus, and a part of the relics of St. Sigismund, King of Burgundy. The emperor readily granted his request; adding, that he conferred on him the regal dignity and title, and granted him the privilege of bearing the imperial eagle on his standard, with an exemption from paying any imperial taxes throughout all his dominions. The good duke thanked his majesty, but excused himself from taking the title of king, which, however, the emperor and princes of the empire from that time always gave him in letters, and on all other occasions. When he had received the above-mentioned relics, he built a church in Prague, in which he deposited them; and caused the body of St. Ludmilla, three years after her death, to be translated into the Church of St. George, which had been built by his father in that city. The severity with which the saint checked oppressions, and certain other disorders in the nobility, made some throw themselves into the faction of his unnatural mother, who concerted measures with her other son, Boleslas, to take him off at any rate. St. Wenceslas had made a vow of virginity; but restless ambition is impatient of delays. A son being born to Boleslas, that prince and his mother invited the good duke to favour them with his company at the rejoicings on that occasion. St. Wenceslas went without the least suspicion of treachery, and was received with all imaginable marks of kindness and civility. This they did the better to cover their hellish design. The entertainment was splendid; but nothing could make the saint neglect his usual devotions. At midnight he went to offer his customary prayers in the church. Boleslus, at the instigation of Drahomira, followed him thither, and, when his attendants had wounded him, he dispatched him with his own hand, running him through the body with a lance. The martyrdom of the holy duke happened on the 28th of September, in 938. The Emperor Otho marched with an army into Bohemia, to revenge his death; the war continued several years; and, when he had vanquished the Bohemians, he contented himself with the submission of Boleslas, who engaged to recall the banished priests, to restore the Christian religion, and to pay him an annual tribute. Drahomira perished miserably soon after the perpetration of her horrible crime. Boleslas, terrified at the reputation of many miracles wrought at the martyr's tomb, caused his body to be translated to the Church of St. Vitus, at Prague, three years after his death. His son and successor, Boleslas II, surnamed the Pious, was a faithful imitator of his uncle, St. Wenceslas, and became one of the greatest princes of his time. A church was erected in honour of St. Wenceslas, in Denmark, in 951, and his name was in great veneration all over the north.
The safety and happiness of government, and of all society among men, is founded upon religion. The general laws of nations and those of particular states are too weak restraints upon those who, in spite of nature itself, laugh the law of God out of doors. Unless religion bind a man in his conscience, he will become so far the slave of his passions, as to be ready, with this unnatural mother and brother, to commit every advantageous villany to which he is prompted, whenever he can do it with secrecy or impunity. It is safer to live among lions and tigers than among such men. It is not consistent with the goodness and justice of God to have created men without an interior law, and a law enforced by the strongest motives, and the highest authority. Nor can his goodness and justice suffer obedience to his law to go unrewarded, or disobedience and contempt to remain unpunished. This consideration alone, leads us to the confession of that just providence which reserves in the life to come the recompense of virtue, and chastisement of vice, which faith reveals to us; this is the sacred band of justice and civil society in the present life. Jeroboam, Numa, Mahomet, and Machiavel himself, thought a persuasion of a false religion necessary for government, where they despaired of accommodating a true one to their wicked purposes, being, sensible that without strong inward ties, proclamations will be hung upon walls and posts only to be despised, and the most sacred laws lose their force. A false religion is not only a grievous crime, but also too feeble a tie for men; it is exposed to uncertainties, suspicion, and the detection of its imposture, and is in itself always infinitely defective and pernicious. True religion insures to him who sincerely professes it, comfort, support, and patience, amidst the sharpest trials, security in death itself, and the most happy and glorious issue, when God shall manifest himself the protector and rewarder of his servants. Virtue, here persecuted and oppressed, will shine forth with the brighter lustre at the last day, as the sun breaking out from under a cloud displays its beam with greater brightness.
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. Wenceslaus, pray for us.