Sts. Nereus and Achilleus

Pope_Damasus_IIn order for Rome to be legitimately considered to be the center of Christianity, the city needed to be Christianized. This was an aim of Pope Damasus I in composing his epigrams which are riddled with allusions to and lines taken from classical authors, most notably Virgil. In some cases, Damasus appropriated classical themes for Christ and the martyrs, as he did by comparing Peter and Paul to Romulus and Remus or Castor and Pollux. In others, he uses classical allusions to subtly subvert Roman cultural values and replace them with Christian ideals.


The Story

Nereus and Achilleus were soldiers, most likely Praetorian Guards, in the reign of either Nero or Domitian.  The epigraph written in their honor by Pope Damasus is translated as follows

They had enlisted for military service and were performing their

cruel duty, in like manner attentive to the tyrant’s commands,

ready to obey orders, compelled by fear.

Marvelous yet true! Suddenly they laid aside their fury;

converted they fled; they abandoned the commander’s wicked camp.

They flung away their shields, their decorations and their bloody weapons.

Having confessed, they rejoiced to carry the triumphs of Christ.

Believe through Damasus what the glory of Christ can achieve.  

(Translation by Dennis Trout)

Nereus and Achilleus are buried in the Catacomb of Domatilla. This Domatilla is usually identified with Flavia Domatilla, the wife of the consul Titus Flavius Clemens. Clemens was executed for the charge of “atheism” which was usually the charge laid against those who converted to Christianity.

Flavia Domatilla, pictured here with Nereus and Achilleus

Domatilla, despite being a niece of the emperor Domitian, was apparently banished for a similar offense and is venerated as a saint. Nereus and Achilleus being buried in her catacomb lends itself to the conclusion that they were martyred during the persecution of Domitian, rather than that of Nero. Nevertheless, they remain the earliest martyrs recognized by Damasus, besides Sts. Peter and Paul. Their location deep within the catacomb also supports the conclusion that they were early martyrs.

Damasus describes their military service as a “savage office” and stated that they were “looking equally to the commands of the tyrant.” Damasus often refers to persecutions as the “commands of tyrants.” It is a direct challenge to Romans who embraced traditional republican values which were often defined as opposition to tyranny. Once the saints convert, they flee the camp and cast down their arms.

Contrast with Roman Society

This image is certainly based on the version of the legend wherein the saints are martyred by Nero, because it includes St. Peter. Notice the swords and shields that they have cast aside

Traditional Roman values would see these actions as cowardice in battle but the pair is allowed “to bear the triumphs of Christ,” signifying that they have won victory in battle. The Latin word that Damasus uses is tropaeum, which is used for the “trophies” taken by victorious troops from the conquered and paraded through the streets of Rome in triumph. This is not a fate that would usually await soldiers who have flung away their swords or their shields (Shields were heavy so flinging them away made it easier to retreat quickly. Hence, the Spartan saying “With your shield, or upon it” meaning to come back either victorious or dead.)

Thus, Damasus is subverting Roman societal conventions with his epigram. He uses the story of Nereus and Achilleus to demonstrate that faith has the ability “to put aside furor.” Lafferty points out that in the Aeneid, Virgil uses the word furor to describe “the forces that resist the efforts of both Aeneas and the foundation of Rome.” Thus, Damasus argued that in casting down their arms, Nereus and Achilleus actually cast aside what prevented them from becoming truly Christian. The epigrams of Damasus reveal his belief not only that to be Christian is to be Roman but that to be genuinely Roman is to be Christian.

Achilleus vs. Achilles

Furthermore, the use of the word furor is meant to play off of the name of Achilleus.

Achilles, after defeating Hektor

Achilleus is the Latin form of Achilles, the Greek hero most famous for his rage. Homer’s epic Iliad begins with a furious Achilles quitting the battlefield in response to an insult by Agamemnon, leader of the Greek force. It is only when he is consumed by a greater fury upon the death of his beloved Patroculus, that Achilles returns to the war, defeats the Trojan prince Hektor and wins glory for himself. In contrast, Achilleus and Nereus set aside their furor to gain glory. With these classical references, Damasus is trying to show that one can be a Christian but still know, appreciate and make reference to earlier classical literature. Yet, the Faith shines a new light upon and brings new meaning to these stories.

Christians and Military Service

The story of Nereus and Achilleus brings up an interesting point. The epigraph of Damasus makes it explicitly that when the two convert, they abandon their military service. The Church honors many warrior saints. We all know the stories of men like Sts. Sebastian, George, Maurice and many others, who faithfully served their nation but were killed for not putting that duty before their duty to God. Less well known are the stories of saints who were martyred because they believed their Faith required that them to refuse to serve in the military.

Today, of course, we understand about the virtue of patriotism and that military service is a noble calling in which, if pursued in accordance with the holy will of God, a person can attain true holiness. It’s important to note, however, that the Church was still figuring things out in regards to the relationship between Christians and the society around them. They were living in a pagan culture. This was a society that was actively persecuting them. How far could one go before what he was doing became collaboration with paganism?

As early as A.D. 50, in the fifteenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, the Pope (St. Peter) is gathering the bishops (the Apostles) together in council (at Jerusalem) to determine the answers to some of these questions. However, the first ecumenical (worldwide) council with not take place until the persecutions are over, in A.D. 325. Even then, the authority of the Pope was not well defined, so during the second and third centuries, it was more or less up to the local churches to figure things out as best they could with it sometimes coming down to individual Christians themselves.

As for Nereus and Achilleus, while it is clear that their new Faith compelled them abandon their military service, it is not entirely clear why. Damasus describes their duty as “cruel,” the weapons as “bloody” and their emperor as a “tyrant.” This would certainly be an apt description of either Domitian or Nero. Damasus also writes that they were compelled to obey orders “out of fear.”

This is a common reasons why atrocities are carried out. Soldiers are afraid to disobey orders they know to be immoral. This is usually the case with tyrants, such as Hitler and Stalin. It is not at all unlikely that as soldiers serving under an emperor as bad as Domitian or Nero, that Nereus and Achilleus would have been ordered to carry out some atrocities, perhaps even the martyrdom of Christians. Perhaps, being honorable men, this was starting to wear on their consciences. After the conversion, the grace of their baptism grants them the courage to refuse to obey orders and cast down their arms, which leads to their martyrdom. If this is the case, they would be good patrons for servicemen and women who could ask their intercession to never give into fear that would cause them to carry out an immoral order.

Sts. Nereus and Achilleus, glorious martyrs, ora pro nobis!


People of the Passion: Malchus

Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s slave and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus- John 18:10 RSV

Servant of the High Priest

When the Temple guards arrive in Gethsemane to arrest Jesus, among them is a person referred to as the servant, or slave, of the High Priest. John is the only evangelist who provides the name of the servant: Malchus. Perhaps this was because John knew the man personally. (In the Gospel according to John, the “other disciple” who accompanies Peter to the house of the High Priest in order to witness the trial of Jesus is “known” to the household and allowed to enter. It is generally accepted that the “other disciple” is John himself, so it would make sense for him to know the High Priest’s servant personally.)

Captain of the Guard

Most adaptations of the Passion tend to interpret servant simply as “someone who serves in some capacity.” Thus, Malchus is usually shown as a member of the Temple Guard. In Louis de Wohl’s historical novel The Spear, Malchus is captain of the Guard, and was originally dispatched to arrest Jesus when He was preaching in the Temple and was almost stoned for saying that He existed before Abraham. Like The Spear, the History Channel miniseries The Bible presents Malchus as captain of the Guard while the Passion of the Christ presents him as a minor member. The only exception to the presentation of Malchus as a member of the Guard I could find is this video, presumably from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. 

All four Gospels record that one of the disciples of Jesus cut off the ear of Malchus (or at least part of it). Only the Gospel according to John identifies that disciple as Simon Peter. Thus, Malchus is the sole victim of the sole abortive attempt by one of Christ’s disciples to save him from arrest and eventual execution.

In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus heals Malchus by replacing his ear. This is the first of three ways in which Luke’s Passion Account differs from the other Synoptics. The Gospel according to Luke, which is the only one that includes the parable of the Prodigal Son, is often referred to as the “Gospel of Mercy.” In each instance, Christ is shown demonstrated mercy or consolation to someone in the course of His Passion. This first instance is notable, because Christ shows mercy by healing someone who has been wounded in the process of arresting Him, an arrest that will lead to His death. Here, as in everything He does, Christ shows us a perfect example of how to live. In this case, He radically practices what He preached when He said, “Love your enemy and do good to those who persecute you.” Healing the ear of Malchus is the last miracle that Jesus performs before His Resurrection.


Roberto Bestazzonni in The Passion of the Christ

Scripture makes no mention of Malchus after the arrest of Jesus. For some reason, no detailed tradition has risen up around him as it has other minor figures in the Passion narrative. In The Passion of the Christ, Malchus stays kneeling on the ground dazed, in the exact spot where Christ healed him, for several moments before being roused by one of his comrades. In The Spear, Malchus is mentioned, alongside Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, as part of the crowd listening to Peter preach on Pentecost. It is implied that he is baptized (presumably by the man who sliced off his ear 53 days earlier!) and becomes a Christian. In her Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, (which both The Spear and The Passion of the Christ use as source) Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich wrote, “Malchus was instantly converted by the cure wrought upon him, and during the time of the Passion his employment was to carry messages backwards and forwards to Mary and the other friends of our Lord.”

In The Bible miniseries, he is still in the employ of the High Priest after Pentecost and gives the order for Peter and John to be flogged after their arrest. If that was what actually happened, perhaps it simply took him a little bit longer to come to the light. Perhaps, witnessing such a change in Peter and the other Apostles from what Malchus briefly witnessed in the Garden, sealed the deal on a nascent belief he had nurtured since that fateful night. Being healed of a grievous wound by the man whom you were sent to arrest would undoubtedly have had a profound effect on Malchus. It is highly unlikely that he would have been unchanged or continued in opposition to Him after His Resurrection.

The Agony in the Garden

And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but Thine, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground.

–Luke 22:41-44 RSV

The First Sorrowful Mystery

The First Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary is the Agony in the Garden. The Agony in the Garden is the beginning of Christ’s Passion. It is where Our Lord first begins to suffer. The bloody sweat recorded by Saint Luke are also the first drops of blood shed by Our Lord.

Saint Luke, who is believed to have been a physician, describes an actual medical condition known as hematridosis. It occurs when capillary blood vessels burst, causing them to fill the sweat glands with blood. It is extremely rare and is only caused by extreme physical and emotional stress.   In Gospel according to Matthew, Christ tells His Apostles that He is “sorrowful, even to the point of death.” Thus, the stress to his soul was so great that His capillaries burst, causing Him to sweat blood. Even before His Crucifixion, Christ was undergoing the most intense suffering and anguish known to man.

Why was Christ in such great anguish?

Saint Luke writes that when the time approached for Jesus to travel to Jerusalem for the final time, that He “set his face” (some translations include, “like flint”). The image brought to mind is of a person who knows that he is about to undergo something painful but who resolutely sets himself to do it and endeavors to not yet his pain or trepidation show in his face. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus prophesies His Passion in words that make it clear that He knows exactly what is in store for Him. Thus, He was no doubt inwardly preparing Himself for His Passion for a long time.

Yet, on the night before His death, His resolve seems to falter. He prays, “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but Thine, be done.” He does so not once, not twice, but three times. He is not rejecting His saving mission but He is asking His Father if there is not some other that it can be accomplished.

Truly God and Truly Man

There are those who reject the idea that Jesus was afraid on the night before His death. The main reason is that to fear would be to doubt and that as the Son of God, Jesus would never doubt. This has led to such ludicrous explanations as Jesus actually praying to His Father to keep Him alive until His crucifixion, because he was in danger of dying in the Garden (which clearly goes against the plain text of Scripture).

To enter fully into the mystery of the Incarnation is to understand that Jesus was fully human. Not only did He have a human body, but he had a human mind and soul, human emotions and a human will. (To deny any of these is to embrace heresies that have long been declared anathema by the Church.) All of these were of course hypostatically united to His divine will which was itself in perfect union with that of His Heavenly Father but that does not mean that Jesus, as a human, did not fear the excruciating pain of a crucifixion.

Yet, none of that means that He was unwilling to undergo His Passion. Nor does it somehow diminish His Passion and Death for us. If anything, it amplifies it. Our Lord asked His Father if there was another way. When His Father answered there was not, He willingly and fully submitted Himself to His Father’s will and went to meet those who were sent to arrest Him.

In this, as in all things, Christ sets a powerful example for His followers. He said, “If anyone wishes to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” However, we are not to seek out suffering and certainly not martyrdom. Suffering is something that we accept, not something that we are to seek. If it is God’s will that such things befall us, we should, as Our Blessed Lord did, pray, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

Another Aspect

saint-christopher-1524When Saint Christopher bore the Christ Child across the raging river on his shoulders, the Child grew so heavy that the exceedingly strong Christopher could barely carry Him. When Christopher to the Child that He felt as heavy as the whole world, the Child responded that was because he “bore the sins of the whole world.”

In the Song of the Suffering Servant, the prophet Isaiah prophesies of Christ, “On Him was laid the iniquity of us all.” In order for the death of Christ to serve as atonement for sins, He had to take on the guilt of those sins. This was every sin that had been committed up to that point and every sin that would be committed from that point until the end of time, from the most banal venial sin to the most heinous of mortal sins.

Saints have hypothesized that in the Garden, Christ witnessed all these sins at once as He accepted the burden of them upon His soul. Sin not only offends God, but it grievously wounds His Heart and this pain must have been intensely overwhelming for Our Lord. In addition to this, sin separates the sinner from God. Upon accepting the guilt of these sins, it stands to reason that Jesus would have felt an intense separation for His Father, made all the more excruciating as He prepared to endure His Passion.

Could It be…Satan?

In his Gospel, Saint Luke records what I consider to be one the two most terrifying words in Scripture, “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.” One needs only to look at recent cinematic portrayals of the life of Christ to see that many have interpreted the “opportune time” to be Christ’s agony in the garden of Gethsemane. Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, the CBS television film Jesus, and the stop-motion animated The Miracle-Maker all include Satan in the Garden of Gethsemane, tempting Jesus to despair, abandon His saving mission and flee from His imminent crucifixion.

Left: Rosalinda Celentano in The Passion of Christ, Top Right: Jereon Krabbe in Jesus, Bottom right: William Hootkins (voice) in The Miracle Maker

Interestingly, in none of these portrayals is there an angelic appearance to counteract the demonic, despite the mention of an angel in the Gospel according to Saint Luke. The Gospel according to Saint Matthew mentions angels coming and ministering to Jesus after His temptations in the desert. While we might be tempted to think of the angelic presence as a soothing comfort from Christ’s agony, Saint Luke writes that the angel was sent “to strengthen Him.” I believe that this is a hint of Satan’s presence in the Garden, with the angel being sent as “back-up” (so to speak) for Jesus in His conflict with the Tempter. One wonders as well if perhaps the “twelve legions of angels” that Our Lord reminds His Apostles He can call upon His Father to send to His aide were not actually present, invisible, waiting for their Lord’s command to drive off the demonic powers arrayed against Him.

New Adam, New Eve

Satan’s presence in the Garden also fits into the understanding of Our Lord as the New Adam and Our Lady as the New Eve. The temptation scene in The Passion of the Christ ends with Christ stomping on the head of a snake that has slithered out of the robes of Satan. While not mentioned explicitly in Scripture, this scene is an obvious reference to the Protoevangelium: “I shall put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and her’s. He shall crush your head while you strike at his heel.”

The Church Fathers saw Our Lady as the New Eve because Our Lord is the New Adam. The twelfth chapter of the Apocalypse, famous for its depiction of the “Woman Clothed with the Sun,” also explicitly identifies Satan as the “that ancient serpent…the deceiver of the whole world.” Whereas the original Adam and Eve rejected the will of God out of disobedience and thus fell to sin and death, the new Adam and Eve obediently accept the will of God.

Mary did this first at the Annunciation with her fiat (“Let it be done to me according to thy word”) and Christ does it now with His words, “Not my will but Thine be done!” In the Garden of Eden, the first Adam rejected the Will of God and disobediently stretched out his hand to the tree and brought sin and, as a result, death into the world. In the Garden of Gethsemane, the new Adam accepts the Will of God and will obediently stretch out His arms upon the tree to erase sin and give life unto the world.

Lord Jesus Christ,

Grant us, we pray, the grace to be truly sorrowful for our sins, for which you suffered so greatly and which caused you such bitter agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Amen.

The Glory of These Forty Days

The glory of these forty days
we celebrate with songs of praise;
for Christ, by whom all things were made,
himself has fasted and has prayed.

– Attributed to Pope St. Gregory the Great

Today marks the beginning of the forty day period of penitence before the celebration of Our Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection during the Paschal Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil. It is forty days because of the forty days that Christ spent in the wilderness prayer, fasting and being tempted by the Devil immediately prior to the beginning of his public ministry.

The funny thing is that Lent is not actually forty days, by anyone’s calculations. If you count the number of days from Ash Wednesday until Holy Saturday (the day before Easter) you get 46 (7×6+4). Now, most people do not count Sundays as days of Lent because technically every Sunday is a celebration of Our Lord’s Resurrection and therefore a time of rejoicing. It’s the same reason that except for the highest of holydays, if a feast falls on Sunday, the Sunday celebration takes precedence or is moved (this year, the Solemnity of St. Joseph gets bumped forward to Monday because March 19th is a Sunday). If you subtract the Sundays, you get forty days.

But…then you run into the problem of the Triduum which is technically one giant feast and it’s own liturgical season. (Pay attention this year: there is no dismissal from the Mass of Our Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday and no greeting of the people at the Easter Vigil. It is one, three-day long liturgy.) So you would have to subtract the last three days of the forty day period and come up with thirty-seven days. Adding back the Sundays does not help because now we have forty-three days.

But I digress…

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Contrary to popular belief, Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation. You would never know this because so many Catholics go to Mass to get ashes. Even Catholics who do not make it to Mass for holydays of obligation or even most Sundays, make it to Mass for Ash Wednesday. While that is kind of sad, a priest can use this opportunity to call those wayward Catholics in the pews (as well as the rest of us…we are all wayward in some way or another) to a deeper sense of repentance.

After all, that is really what Lent is all about: repentance. In the ancient times, those who wished to show repentance from sin would publicly rend their garments, put on sackcloth and sprinkle ashes in their hair. (As an example, this is what the people of Nineveh did in order to avert the destruction prophesied by the prophet Jonah) When the priest or minister puts the ashes on a person’s forehead, he does so with an admonition. The classic is “Remember man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.” This is a warning of our own mortality that hearkens back to what God told Adam after he sinned in the Garden of Eden. This connection makes it a reminder that as St. Paul wrote, “The wages of sin are death” and that one day, we will die, and be judged for our sins. Now, is the time to repent, for we could be called before the judgment seat of God any day, no matter how young or healthy we might be.

More recently, priests and ministers have been offering a more straightforward (and less somber) admonition: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” This is taken from Scripture as well, as they are the words of both John the Baptist and Jesus Himself as they preached the imminent Kingdom of God. It is a simple statement of what we are called to do during Lent, and the ashes on the forehead are an outward symbol of that.

The ashes are supposed to be in the shape of a cross, but in reality they could be any number of things. Above is a handy guide to deciphering them.

The Real Point of Lent

To further our discipline, which is an absolute requirement to battle sin and, ultimately its author, most Catholics, during Lent, embrace some form of penitential practice, above and beyond what the Church obliges each and every able-bodied Catholic to do, under pain of mortal sin. While this often takes the form of a mortification of the flesh, such as giving up certain foods or sleeping without a blanket, it can also take the form of engaging in some sort of pious exercise such as praying the Rosary or going to daily Mass.

While I plan to do both of the aforementioned types of penitential practices, one thing I hope to accomplish this Lent is to write meditations on different aspects of Our Lord’s Passion. The Church provides multiple devotional frameworks for such meditations. Chief among these are the fourteen Stations of the Cross, the five Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary and the seven Last Words of Christ. Added together this only make twenty-six. Since, I would like to make this a devotional practice for Lent, I have decided to add enough to make it forty, primarily by also meditating on the Passion as seen by some of the players in it such as Malchus, Pontius Pilate, Simon of Cyrene, Veronica, Dismas and Longinus. Adding meditations on the Sunday Gospels as well one of two one-offs on various subjects related to the Passion would bring that number to (more or less) forty.

I have tried to so something similar in the past and have always failed. I would very much like to succeed this year. I think success would be more likely if I knew people were actually reading these posts and gaining something from them. Therefore, I humbly invite you to take this Lenten journey with me, starting today.






That’s (Saint) Hilarius!

Patrons Galore!

The Catholic Church has patron saints for almost anything you can think of. There are also numerous reasons that one might venerate a saint as his patron. There is of course the saint you are named after, but is also the patron saint for your vocation, your profession, your nationality or ethnic background. There are patrons for numerous special conditions or situations that might apply to you as well.

One patronage that is not as commonly thought of as the others is the patron of your birthday, that is to say the saint whose feast falls on the day you were born. Now, not every day has a saint commemorated on the official Church calendar. However, every canonized saint has an assigned feast day, even if his or her name is not on the official calendar. If the your birthday lacks a saint’s feast on the current calendar, there is always the Traditional Calendar (the one that is used for offering the Extraordinary Form a.k.a. the Latin Mass), which generally had a lot more saints on it.

My Birthday Saint

I remember growing up and being a little bummed because my “birthday saint” was not one of the “cool” or “famous” saints. (I was born three weeks early. If I’d just waited 15 days to come out, I could have been born on the memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas!) However, in my research for my Master’s thesis (which, if you are so inclined, you can read HERE), I discovered just how awesome and important St. Hilarius, a.k.a. Hilary, of Potiers, really was.

Quick note: I have always felt bad for St. Hilary because nowadays, Hilary is typically considered to be a girl’s name. In light of that fact as well as the recent Presidential election, I will be referring to the saint by his Latin name of Hilarius hereafter. (For the most part, I prefer the Latin versions of the names anyway).


Hilarius was bishop of the city of Pictavium, modern day Poitiers, France, in the mid-fourth century. During this time, the Church was embroiled in the Arian Crisis. Despite having been anathematized at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325, the teachings of Arius that the Son was not “consubstantial” with the Father but merely the highest of created beings, enjoyed favor with the Roman emperor Constantius II, son of Constantine the Great.

The Liberian Controversy

Hilarius wrote Historia Arianorum, which is an invaluable account of this controversy. He was such a staunch opponent of the Arian heresy that he is known as the “Athanasius of the West.” Like Athanasius, Hilarius was exiled by Constantius II for opposing Arianism and refusing to accept the appointments of Arian or Arian sympathetic bishops. A document known as  Quae gesta sunt inter Liberium et Felicem episcopos, “That which occurred between the bishops Liberius and Felix,” (hereafter: Gesta) lists Hilarius, along with Eusebius, bishop of Vercelli; Lucifer, (yes…you read that right) bishop of Cagliari; and Liberius, bishop of Rome; as bishops of the West whom Constantius exiled.

Of these men, two (Hilarius and Eusebius) are saints; and two (Liberius and Lucifer) are not. In place of Liberius, Constantius appointed an antipope named Felix (II). The Roman people refused to accept him as their bishop and when Constantius visited Rome two years later, they successfully petitioned him to allow Liberius to return.

The accounts of the pagan historian Ammianus Marcellinus, and Christian historians Socrates Scholasticus and Theodoret all agree that the actions ofChristians of Rome brought about the return of Liberius. The author of the Gesta concurs but adds an ominous caveat to the acquiescence of Constantius. “He soon agreed, saying, ‘You may have Liberius, who will return to you better than he was when he departed.’ But this revealed that by his agreement he was extending the hand of treachery.” Frustratingly, there is no further elaboration on this point. Sozomen supplies the details that the author of the Gesta omits. Constantius once again summoned Liberius before him and “urged him…to confess that the Son is not of the same substance as the Father.” Sozomen, a Church historian,  states that the Arian bishops of the East produced a document which condemned the doctrines of Sabellianism.  Sabellianism is the heresy which states that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not three distinct persons in one God but three different aspects or “modes” of the same God. Arians often erroneously equated the doctrine of Nicaea with this earlier heresy.

Liberius assented to the document, which included a confession of faith which deliberately omitted the term homoousias (Greek form of “consubstantial”) In fact, it made no mention of “substance” at all. These creeds were not technically heretical. They did not state false doctrine but neither did they affirm the doctrine of the homoousion that had been accepted at Nicaea. Upon this basis, the Arian party “circulated the report that Liberius had renounced the term ‘consubstantial,’ and had admitted that the Son is dissimilar from the Father.”


There are three possibilities. The first is that Liberius, worn down by exile, capitulated and did in fact sign the document, with full knowledge of its contents. The second is that he signed but did not realize or fully understand what he was signing. The final is that he did not sign but that the Arians simply circulated the report that he had signed in order to discredit him.

In light of recent actions on the part of the current occupant of the throne of Saint Peter, debate has broken out anew over the question of what, if anything, Liberius signed and what his culpability was in so doing. The end result in the fourth century however was simple: neither Pope Liberius nor Lucifer of Cagliari are venerated as saints.

The reason of Lucifer is related to that of Liberius.  (It has nothing to do with his unfortunate name. The name Lucifer was not associated with Satan until Jerome’s Vulgate translation, which he undertook late in the pontificate, and at the behest of, Damasus, successor of Liberius) Lucifer refused to accept Liberius as the lawful bishop of Rome after hearing of his capitulation and went into schism. This schism continued into the pontificate of Pope St. Damasus I, who succeeded Liberius. Two Luciferian presbyters named Marcellinus and Faustinus went so far as to write a letter to the emperors Theodosius, Valentinus and Arcadius denouncing Damasus.

The writings of Hilarius contain the report that Liberius signed the “formula of Sirmium” which did not affirm the Son as consubstantial with the Father. Nevertheless, he did not follow Lucifer into schism, and is venerated today as both a saint and Doctor of the Church. He serves as an excellent example to follow for us during this time of crisis in the Church that so resembles the Arian Crisis of the fourth century.

Practical Application

For my wife and I, one big factor when choosing the name for our daughter was on which saint’s feast she would be born on or close to. Since her due date was July 27, we decided we would either name her Kateri or Anna with the middle name of Therese.

She was born July 11. That is the memorial of St. Benedict but I was not able to convince my wife to name her Benedicta. As it turned out, her first Mass, which we attended the day after she left the hospital, was July 14: the memorial of St. Kateri Tekawitha. Six weeks later she was baptized on August 28, which would have been the memorial of St. Augustine if it had not fallen on a Sunday

Men, I encourage you to, if you have not already done so, research your patron saints. Start with the usual: name, vocation, profession, nationality. But do not forget about your birthday saint or even your baptism saint. Do not be afraid to invoke their intercession. If you have children, research their patron saints and teach your children about them. Teach them to invoke their intercession and treat them like friends in Heaven.

Named after Sts. Kateri Tekawitha and Thérèse of Lisieux, born on the memorial of St. Benedict and born again on the memorial of St. Augustine, I am glad that my daughter has powerful patrons and protectors in Heaven and I will encourage her from an early age to call on their help and protection.

Saint Hilarius of Potiers, ora pro nobis.