May 27, 2022: POPE ST. JOHN I
May 27, 2022: COMMEMORATION OF ST. JOHN 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.
O God, who by the yearly solemnity of blessed John, thy Martyr and Bishop, rejoicest the hearts of thy faithful: mercifully grant that we, who celebrate his martyrdom, may enjoy his protection. 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 palm of martyrdom was won by this holy Pope, not in a victory over a Pagan Persecutor, but in battling, for the Church's Liberty, against a “christian” King. But this King was a heretic, and therefore an enemy of every Pontiff that was zealous for the triumph of the true Faith. The state of Christ's Vicar here on earth is a state of combat; and it frequently happens, that a Pope is veritably a Martyr, without having shed his blood. St. John the First, whom we honour to-day, was not slain by the sword; a loathsome dungeon was the instrument of his martyrdom: but there are many Popes, who are now in heaven with him, Martyrs like himself, who never even passed a day in prison or in chains: the Vatican was their Calvary. They conquered, yet fell in the struggle with so little appearance of victory, that heaven had to take up the defence of their reputation, as was the case with that angelic Pontiff of last Century, Clement the Thirteenth. The Saint of to-day teaches us, by his conduct, what should be the sentiment of every worthy member of the Church. He teaches us, that we should never make a compromise with Heresy, nor approve of the measures taken by worldly policy for securing what it calls the rights of Heresy. If the past ages, aided by the religious indifference of Governments, have introduced the “Toleration of all Religions,” or even the principle that “all Religions are to be treated alike by the State,”—let us, if we will, put up with this latitudinarianism, and be glad to see, that the Church, in virtue of it, is guaranteed from legal persecution; but, as Catholics, we can never look upon it as an absolute good. Whatever may be the circumstances in which Providence has placed us, we are bound to conform our views to the principles of our Holy Faith, and to the infallible teaching and practice of the Church,—out of which, there is but contradiction, danger and infidelity.
The holy Liturgy thus extols the virtues and courage of our Saint.
John, by birth a Tuscan, governed the Church during the reign of the Emperor Justin the Elder. He undertook a journey to Constantinople, in order to solicit the Emperor's protection against the heretical king Theodoric, who was persecuting the Faithful of Italy. God honoured the Pontiff, during this journey, by several miracles. When about to visit Corinth, a certain nobleman lent him a horse, which he kept for his wife's use, on account of its being so gentle. When the Pontiff afterwards returned, and gave the horse back to the nobleman, it was no longer the tame creature as before; but, as often as its mistress attempted to ride it, would snort and prance, and throw her from its back, as though it scorned to bear a woman's weight, after it had carried the Vicar of Christ. They therefore gave the horse to the Pontiff. But a greater miracle was that which happened at Constantinople. Near to the Golden Gate, and in the presence of an immense concourse of people, who had assembled there, together with the Emperor, to show honour to the Pontiff, he restored sight to a blind man. The Emperor, also, prostrated before him, out of a sentiment of veneration. Having arranged matters with the Emperor, he returned to Italy, and immediately addressed a Letter to all its Bishops, commanding them to consecrate the Churches of the Arians, that they might be used for Catholic service. He added these words: “For, when at Constantinople, for the interests of the Catholic Religion, and on account of king Theodoric, we consecrated all the Arian Churches we could find in that country, and made them Catholic.” Theodoric was exceedingly angry at this; and, having craftily got the Pontiff to come to Ravenna, put him in prison. There, from the filth of the place, and from starvation, he died in a few days. He reigned two years, nine months, and fourteen days; during which time, he ordained fifteen Bishops. Theodoric died soon after; and St. Gregory relates, that a certain Hermit saw him plunged into a pit of fire at Lipari, in the presence of John the Pontiff, and the Patrician Symmachus, whom he had murdered: thus they, whom he had put to death, stood as judges condemning him to punishment. The body of St. John was taken from Ravenna to Rome, and buried in the Basilica of Saint Peter.
Another account of Pope St. John the first.
Pope John was by birth a Tuscan. He distinguished himself from his youth in the Roman clergy, of which he became the oracle and the model. He was archdeacon when, after the death of Hormisdas in 523, he was chosen pope. Theodoric the Arian king of the Goths held Italy in subjection, and though endowed with some great qualities, did not divest himself of that disposition to cruelty and jealousy, which is always an ingredient in the character of an ambitious tyrant and a barbarian. It happened that the emperor Justin published an edict, ordering the Arians to deliver up all the churches they were possessed of to the Catholic bishops, by whom they were to be consecrated anew. Theodoric, who was the patron of that sect, took this law very ill; and in revenge threatened, that if it was not repealed in the East, he would not only treat the Catholics in his dominions in the same manner, but would fill Rome with blood and slaughter. Being, however, in some awe of the emperor, he resolved to try what he could do by negotiation; and sent the pope at the head of an embassy of five bishops and four senators, of which three had been consuls to Constantinople on that errand. John used all manner of entreaties to decline such a commission, but was compelled by the king to take it upon him. He was received in the East with the greatest honours possible; and the whole city of Constantinople went out twelve miles to meet him, carrying wax tapers and crosses. The emperor, to use the words of Anastasius, prostrated himself before the most blessed pope, who also relates that the saint entering the city, restored sight to a blind man at the golden gate, who begged that favour of him. The same is mentioned by St. Gregory the Great, who adds, that the horse on which he rode, would never after bear any other rider. The joy of that city was universal on this occasion, and the pomp with which the successor of St. Peter was received, seemed to surpass the festival of a triumph. Authors vary as to the issue of his embassy; some say that the pope confirmed Justin in his resolution of taking away the churches from the heretics; but Anastasius tells us that the pope persuaded Justin to treat the Arians with moderation, and to leave them the churches of which they were possessed, and that the emperor acquiesced. However that be, whilst our saint was in the East; Theodoric caused the great Boëtius, who was the pope's most intimate friend, both before and after he was raised to the pontificate, to be apprehended. And no sooner was pope John landed at Ravenna in Italy, but, together with the four senators his colleagues, he was cast into a dark and loathsome dungeon. The tyrant forbid any succour or comfort to be allowed to the prisoners, so that by the hardships of his confinement and the stench of the place, the good pope died at Ravenna on the twenty-seventh of May 526, soon after the cruel execution of Boëtius, having sat two years and nine months. His body was conveyed to Rome, and buried in the Vatican church. The two letters which bear his name are supposititious, as appears from their very dates, &c.
When we see wicked men prosper, and saints die in dungeons, we are far from doubting of providence, we are strengthened in the assured belief, that God who has stamped the marks of infinite wisdom and goodness on all his works, has appointed a just retribution in the world to come. And faith reveals to us clearly this important secret. We at present see only one end of the chain in the conduct of providence towards men; many links in it are now concealed from our eyes. Let us wait a little, and we shall see in eternity God's goodness abundantly justified. Who does not envy the happiness of a martyr in his dungeon, when he beholds the inward joy, peace, and sentiments of charity with which he closes his eyes to this world? and much more when he contemplates in spirit the glory with which the soul of the saint is conducted by angels, like Lazarus, to the abodes of immortal bliss? On the contrary, the wicked tyrant cannot think himself safe upon his throne, and amidst his armies; but sits, like Damocles, under the terrible sword in the midst of his enjoyments, in the dreary expectation every moment of perishing. At best, his treacherous pleasures are a wretched exchange for the true joy and peace of virtue; nor can he fly from the torment of his own conscience, or the stench of his guilt. How dreadfully are his horrors increased upon the approach of death! And how will he to all eternity condemn his extravagant folly, unless by sincere repentance he shall have prevented everlasting woes!
Taken from: The Liturgical Year
- The Paschal Time, Vol. II, Dublin, Edition 1871;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. V, 1821; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
St. John the first, pray for us.