12 - 16 minutes readJune 26 – Sts John and Paul, Martyrs ~ Dom Prosper Gueranger

Reader Mode Text to speech

June 26 – Sts John and Paul, Martyrs

Amidst the numerous sanctuaries which adorn the capital of the Christian universe, the church of Saints John and Paul has remained from the early date of its origin one of the chief centers of Roman piety. From the summit of the Cœlian Hill it towers over the Coliseum, the dependencies of which stretch subterraneously even as far as the cellarage of the house once inhabited by our Saints. They, the last of the Martyrs, completed the glorious crown offered to Christ by Rome, the chosen seat of his power. The conflict in which their blood was spilt consummated the triumph whose hour was sounded under Constantine, but which an offensive retaliation on the part of hell seemed about to compromise.

No attack could be conceived more odious for the Church than that devised by the apostate Cæsar. Nero and Diocletian had violently and with hatred declared against the Incarnate God a war of sword and torture; and without recrimination, Christians by thousands had died, knowing that the testimony thus demanded was merely the order of things, just as it had been in the case of their august Head before a Pontius Pilate, and upon the cross. But with the clever astuteness of a traitor, and the affected disdain of a false philosopher, Julian purposed to stifle Christianity amidst the bulrushes of an oppression progressive to a nicety, and respectfully abhorrent of human blood. Merely to preclude Christians from public offices, and to prohibit them from holding chairs for the teaching of youth, that was all the apostate aimed at! However, the blood which he wanted to avoid shedding must flow, even though a hypocrite’s hands be dyed therewith; for, according to the divine plan, bloodshed alone can bring extreme situations to an issue, and never was Holy Church menaced with greater peril. They would now make a slave of her whom they had beheld still holding her royal liberty in face of executioners. They would now await the moment when, once enslaved, she would at last disappear of herself, in powerlessness and degradation. For this reason the bishops of that time found vent for their indignant soul in accents such as their predecessors had spared to princes whose brute violence was then inundating the empire with Christian blood. They now retorted upon the tyrant scorn for scorn; and the manifestations of contempt that consequently came showering in from every quarter upon the crowned fool, completely unmasked at last his feigned moderation. Julian was now shown up as nothing but a common persecutor of the usual kind; blood flowed, the Church was rescued.

Thus is explained the gratitude which this noble Bride of the Son of God has never ceased to manifest to these glorious Martyrs we are celebrating today: for amidst the many generous Christians whose outspoken indignation brought about the solution of this terrible crisis, none are more illustrious than they. Julian was most anxious to count them among his confidants: with this view, he made use of every entreaty, as we learn from the Breviary Lessons; nor does it appear that he even made the renouncing of Jesus Christ a condition. Well then, it may be retorted, why not yield to the Imperial whim? Could they not do so without wounding their conscience? Surely too much stiffness would be rather calculated to ill-dispose the prince, perhaps even fatally. Whereas to listen to him would very likely have a soothing effect upon him; nay, possibly even bring him round to relax somewhat of those administrative trammels unfortunately imposed upon the Church by his prejudiced government. Yea, for aught one knew, the possible conversion of his soul, the return of so many of the misled who had followed him in his fall, might be the result! Should not such things as these deserve some consideration? should they not impose, as a duty, some gentle handling? Ah! yes; such reasoning as this would doubtless appear to some people as wise policy. Such preoccupation for the apostate’s salvation could easily have had nothing in it but what was inspired by zeal for the Church and for souls; and indeed the most exacting casuist could not find it a crime for John and Paul to dwell in a court where nothing was demanded of them contrary to the divine precepts. Nevertheless the two brothers resolved otherwise; to the course of soothing and reserve-making, they preferred that of the frank expression of their sentiments, and this bold out-speaking of theirs put the tyrant in a fury and brought about their death. The Church has judged their case, and she has found them not in the wrong; hence, it is unlikely that the former path would have led them to a like degree of sanctity in God’s sight.

The names of John and Paul inscribed on the sacred diptychs show well enough their credit in the eyes of the Divine Victim, who never offers Himself to the God Thrice-Holy without blending their memory with that of His own immolation. The enthusiasm excited by the noble attitude of these two valiant witnesses to the Lord, still re-echoes in the Antiphons and Responsories proper to the Feast. It was formerly preceded by a Vigil and fast; together with the sanctuary which encloses their tomb, it may be said to date as far back as the very morrow of their martyrdom. Granted by a singular privilege a place in the Leonian Sacramentary; whilst so many other martyrs slept their sleep of peace outside the walls of the Holy City, John and Paul reposed in Rome itself, the definitive conquest of which had been won for the God of armies by their gallant combat. That very same day of the year immediately succeeding their victorious death (June 26, 363), Julian fell dead, uttering against heaven his cry of rage: “Galilean, thou hast conquered!”

From the Queen City of the universe their renown, passing beyond the mountains, shone forth almost as soon and with nearly equal splendor in the Gauls. Returned from the scene of his own struggle in the cause of the Divinity of Jesus Christ, Hilary of Poitiers at once propagated their cultus. This great Bishop was called to our Lord scarce five years after their martyrdom; but he had already found time to consecrate to their name the church in which his loving hands had laid his sweet daughter Abra and her mother, awaiting the hour when he too should be joined to them in the same spot, expecting the day of the Resurrection. It was from this very church of Saints John and Paul, called later on St. Hilary the Great’s, that Clovis on the eve of the battle of Vouillé beheld streaming towards him that mysterious light, presage of the victory which would result in the expulsion of Arianism from the Gauls, and in the foundation of monarchical unity. These holy Martyrs continued, in after years, to show the interest they took in the advancement of the kingdom of God by the Franks. When the disastrous issue of the second Crusade was filling the soul of St. Bernard with bitterness (for he had preached it), they appeared to him, upraised his courage, and manifested by what secrets the King of Heaven had known how to draw His own glory out of events in which man saw only failure and disaster.

Let us now read the simple and touching Legend consecrated by the Church to the two Brethren.

Joannes et Paulus fratres Romani, cum facultatibus a Constantia Constantini filia, cui pie fideliterque servierant, sibi relictis, Christi pauperes alerent; a Juliano apostata in numerum familiarium suorum invitati, libere negaverunt se apud eum esse velle, qui a Jesu Christo defecisset. Quibus ille ad deliberandum decem dies præfinit, ut nisi ad eam diem ei adhærere, et Jovi sacrificare constituerint, sibi moriendum esse certo sciant. John and Paul, Roman brethren, fed the poor of Christ out of the riches left to them by Constantia, Constantine’s daughter, whom they had faithfully and piously served. Being invited into the number of his familiars by Julian the Apostate, they boldly refused, declaring that they had no wish to be in company of one who had forsaken Jesus Christ. Whereupon, he gave them ten days for deliberation, at the end of which term they must know for certain they were to die unless they would consent to attach themselves to him and to sacrifice to Jupiter.
Illi intra id tempus reliqua sua bona distribuerunt pauperibus, quo expeditiores ad Dominum migrare possent, et plures juvarent, a quibus in æterna tabernacula reciperentur. Die decima Terentianus prætoriæ cohortis præfectus, ad eos missus, cum allata Jovis effigie, ut eam venerarentur, imperatoris mandatum eis exponit: ut nisi Jovi cultum adhibeant, moriantur. Qui, ut erant orantes, responderunt, se pro Christi fide, quem Deum monte et ore venerabantur, non dubitanter mortem subituros. They, meanwhile, employed the time in distributing the remainder of their goods to the poor, so that they might the quicker go to the Lord, and that there might be more persons helped by them, through whose means they might be received into the eternal tabernacles. On the tenth day, Terentianus, Prefect of the prætorian guard, was sent to them, bringing with him the statue of Jupiter, that they might worship it, and he expounded unto them the Emperor’s mandate: to wit, that unless they would pay homage to Jupiter, they must forthwith die. They, still continuing their prayer, replied that they hesitated not to suffer death for the faith of Christ, whom they with both mind and mouth did adore as God.
At Terentianus, veritus ne, si publice interficerentur, populus commoveretur, domi ubi tunc erant, abscissis eorum capitibus sexto Kalendas Julii, secreto eos sepeliendos curavit: rumoremque sparsit Joannem et Paulum in exilium ejectos esse. Verum eorum mors a spiritibus immundis, qui multorum corpora vexabant, pervulgata est: in quibus Terentiani filius et ipse oppressus a dæmone, ad sepulchrum martyrum perductus, liberatus est. Quo miraculo et is in Christum credidit, et ejus pater Terentianus, a quo etiam horum beatorum martyrum vita scripta esse dicitur. Now Terentianus was afraid lest there should ensue a popular tumult were they executed in public, so there and then, on the sixth of the Kalends of July, and in their own house, their heads being struck off, they were secretly buried; whilst the rumor was spread abroad that John and Paul had been sent into banishment. But their death was published by the unclean spirits that began to torment a number of persons whose bodies they possessed: amongst whom was the son of Terentianus, who being troubled by a devil, was led to the sepulcher of the martyrs and there freed. By the which miracle, both he and his father Terentianus believed in Christ; Terentianus himself, as it is said, afterwards wrote the history of their blessed martyrdom.

We give below, the proper Antiphons and Responsories, of which we spoke, and which are to be found just as we now use them, with but few variations, in the most ancient Responsorialia and Antiphonaria which have come down to us. The person mentioned in one of these Antiphons, by the name of Gallicanus, is a Consul who was drawn to the faith and to a saintly life by the influence of the two Brothers; he is even named in yesterday’s Martyrology.

Antiphons and Responsories
Paulus et Joannes dixerunt Juliano: Nos unum Deum colimus, qui fecit cœlum et terram. Paul and John said to Julian: We worship the one God who made heaven and earth.
Paulus et Joannes dixerunt Terentiano: Si tuus dominus est Julianus, habeto pacem cum illo: nobis alius non est, nisi Dominus Jesus Christus. Paul and John said to Terentianus: If thy Lord be Julian, keep thou at peace with him: ours is none other but the Lord Jesus Christ.
Joannes et Paulus, agnoscentes tyrannidem Juliani, facultates suas pauperibus erogare cœperunt. John and Paul perceiving the tyranny of Julian began to distribute their riches among the poor.
Sancti spiritus et animæ justorum, hymnum dicite Deo. Alleluia. Ye holy Spirits and souls of the just, sing ye a hymn to God. Alleluia.
Joannes et Paulus dixerunt ad Gallicanum: Fac votum Deo cœli, et eris victor melius quam fuisti. John and Paul said to Gallicanus: Make thy vow unto the God of heaven, and thou shalt be victor greater than thou has ever been.
Antiphon of the Magnificat (1st Vespers)
Adstiterunt justi ante Dominum, et ab invicem non sunt separati: calicem Domini biberunt, et amici Dei appellati sunt. The just stood before the Lord and were not separated from one another: they drank the chalice of the Lord, and they were called the friends of God.
Antiphon of the Magnificat (2nd Vespers)
Iste sunt duæ olivæ, et duo candelabra lucentia ante Dominum: habent potestatem claudere cœlum nubibus, et aperire portas ejus, quia linguæ eorum claves cœli factæ sunt. These are the two olive trees and the two candlesticks giving light before the Lord: they have power to close heaven that the clouds rain not, and to open the gates thereof, for their tongues are made keys of heaven.
At the Benedictus
Isti sunt sancti, qui pro Christi amore minas hominum contempserunt: sancti martyres in regno cœlorum exsultant cum angelis: o quam pretiosa est mors sanctorum, qui assidue assistunt ante Dominum, et ab invicem non sunt separati! These are the holy ones, who for Christ’s love contemned the threats of men: in the kingdom of heaven the holy martyrs exult with the Angels: oh! how precious is the eath of the Saints who constantly stand before the Lord, and are never separated from another!
℟. Isti sunt duo viri misericordiæ, qui assistunt ante Dominum, * Dominatorem universæ terræ. ℟. These are two men of mercy, who stand before the Lord, * the Sovereign of the whole earth.
℣. Isti sunt duæ olivæ, et duo candelabra lucentia ante Dominum, * Dominatorem universæ terræ. ℣. These are two olive trees and two candlesticks giving light before the Lord, * the Sovereign of the whole earth.
℟. Vidi conjunctos viros habentes splendidas vestes; et Angelus Domini locutus est ad me, dicens: * Isti sunt viri sancti, facti amici Dei. ℣. I saw men standing together clad in shining raiment; and the Angel of the Lord spake unto me, saying: * These men are holy, for they are made the friends of God.
℣. Vidi Angelum Dei fortem, volantem per medium cœlum, voce magna clamantem et dicentem: * Isti sunt viri sancti, facti amici Dei. ℣. And I beheld a mighty Angel of God flying through the midst of heaven, crying with a loud voice, and saying: * These men are holy, for they are made the friends of God.

Twofold is the triumph that thrills through heaven and twofold the gladness re-echoed on earth, this day, whilst your outpoured blood proclaims the victory of the Son of God! Verily, by the martyrdom of the Faithful doth Christ triumph. The effusion of his Blood marked the defeat of the prince of this world; the Blood of his mystical members possesses, alone and always, the power of establishing his reign. Contest has never been an evil for the Church militant; the noble Bride of the God of armies delights in combat; for she knows right well her Spouse came upon earth to bring not peace, but the sword. Therefore, unto the end of time will she hold up as an example to her sons your chivalrous courage and your bold frankness, which scorned to dissimulate your utter contempt for an apostate tyrant, or to suffer you to dwell for a moment on such considerations as mught perhaps, had you listened to him at the first, have just saved your conscience, together with life. Wo to the day wherein the deceptive mirage of guileful peace misleads minds; wherein, merely because sin, properly so called, does not stare them in the face, Christian souls stoop from the lofty stand-point of their baptism, to compromises which even a pagan world would scout. Glorious Brethren! make the children of holy Church to turn aside from that fatal error which would lead them to misconceptions of sacred traditions received by them in heritage. Maintain the “sons of God” at the full height of those noble sentiments demanded by their heavenly origin, by the throne that awaits them, by the divine Blood they daily drink of; far from them be all such base-born notions as would be calculated to excite against their heavenly Father the blasphemies of the “accursed city!” Nowadays there has arisen a persecution not dissimilar to that in which you gained the crown; Julian’s plan of action is once more in vogue; if these mimics of the apostate equal him not in intelligence, they at least surpass him in hatred and hypocrisy. But God is not wanting to his Church now any more than he was then; obtain for us the grace to do our part in resistance, as was done by you, and the victory will be the same.

Your very names, O John and Paul, remind us of the Friend of the Bridegroom whose Octave is speeding its course; and of that Paul of the Cross who revived, in the last century, heroism of sanctity in your very house on Monte Cœlio. Vouchsafe to unite your protection, powerful as indeed it is, to that which the Precursor exercises over the Mother and Mistress of all Churches, become by the very fact of her primacy the chief butt of the enemies’ attack; uphold the new militia raised by the necessity of the times, and which is entrusted with the guardianship both of your sacred remains and of those of its glorious Founder. Remembering the power which the Church specially attributes to you, namely, that of opening or shutting the flood-gates of heaven, be pleased to bless our harvest well nigh ripe for the sickle. Be propitious to our reapers and assuage their painful labor. Preserve from lightning man and his possessions, the home that shelters him, the beasts that serve him. Too often, alas, ungrateful and forgetful man would indeed deserve to incur your wrath; but prove yourselves children of Him who maketh his sun to rise upon the wicked as well as upon the good, and giveth his rain to fall alike upon the just and upon sinners.


This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)