Thank you to all readers for your kind words and prayers for my wife, whose pregnancy was announced somewhat obliquely in Thursday’s newsletter.
There is a wonderful tradition that before their respective martyrdoms St. Chrysogonus (Sunday, November 24) befriended St. Anastasia, who had been cast into prison at the behest of her husband. Before the former’s death he is said to have been taken before Diocletian, who begged him to consider his position in society: “Take the power of the provost, and the consulate of thy lineage, and do sacrifice to the gods.” To which the saint replied: “I adore and worship one only God of heaven, and I despise thy dignities as filth or mire.”
In his preface to the Lives of the English Saints, St. John Henry Newman tells us that miracles are “the kind of facts proper to ecclesiastical history, just as instances of sagacity and daring, personal prowess or crime, are the facts proper to secular history.” This is a point that bears repeating. The alleged hagiographer Donald Attwater, not content to argue that certain incidents from the life of St. Catherine of Alexandria (Monday, November 25) might have been exaggerated or misunderstood, wrote that there is no “positive evidence that she ever existed outside the mind of some Greek writer who first composed what he intended to be simply an edifying romance.” What I should like to know is whether there is any evidence that Attwater ever existed. It seems to me just as likely that he is a pious invention of some English writer who first composed what he intended to be simply a parody of modernist follies. Who could possibly believe that an early enthusiast for the bad part of the old liturgical movement who joined the cult of the pedophile Eric Gill and never held any academic post was entrusted with revising Butler’s Lives of the Saints? It is even said that Pseudo-Attwater lived to the age of 105.
Once on Easter when St. Conrad (Tuesday, November 26) was saying Mass, he saw a spider fall into the chalice. Many priests would have had the arachnid—which may well have been poisonous—removed and burned, but Conrad swallowed it whole rather than disrupt the Holy Sacrifice. Some hours later he seems to have vomited up the creature. Speaking of Butler, I like very much what he says of this saint’s death: “He went to receive his salary in eternal joys.”
In addition to being an astronomer, the remarkable St. Vergil (Wednesday, November 27) was a grammarian of what we would now call “anti-prescriptivist” views. Upon hearing that a certain priest had mangled the Latin formula for baptism (“Baptizo te in nomine patria et filia et spiritu sancta”), St. Boniface declared that the sacrament had not been conferred. Vergil disagreed, and Boniface wrote to Pope Zachary, who ruled that while all things being equal it is better to get the words just right, the latter was correct in assuming that ignorance of grammar was not an obstacle to the conferral of baptismal grace. Boniface later accused Vergil of other errors, and the saint once more acquitted himself.
I have always wondered why it is that the same people who will sneer at things like pontifical vesting prayers have any patience for flag-folding ceremonies. During the persecution of the Iconoclasts St. Stephen the Younger (Thursday, November 28) was asked whether damage done to an icon of Our Lord inflicted injury upon His Body. The saint replied that it did not and then proceeded to stamp his foot upon a coin embossed with the image of his sovereign. His brains were bashed in with clubs.
Any bishop who takes occupation of a see with which he is unfamiliar must expect that there will be a sort a learning period in which he becomes accustomed to local manners and attitudes. When St. Saturninus (Friday, November 29) was appointed bishop of Toulouse he was alarmed to discover that the locals were fond of speaking with devils. He did not endear himself to some of his flock when he entered the temple at which these fiends were consulted and silenced them. Saturninus was placed behind a bull and dragged down a hill until his skull was crushed.
On Saturday, November 30 we bid farewell to the endless roll of Sundays after Pentecost and commemorate, among others St. Andrew. We wish all of our readers a blessed Advent and ask them to pray for expectant mothers and for the suffering souls in Purgatory.