Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Valerius Herberger on St. Vitus, Martyr (June 15)

Devout hearts! Just as our Savior Jesus was already a wondrous mirror of unprecedented wisdom at twelve years of age (Luke 2:42), so the godly boy Vitus was a wondrous mirror of Christian constancy at twelve years of age. Therefore it is well worth the labor for our dear young men and women to be told of him so that they may devote their tender hearts to the Lord Jesus while they are still in their early years, in keeping with that saying of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 12:1 which Discipulus treats on the feast of St. Vitus: “Remember your Maker in your youth, before the evil days come, and before the years approach when you will say, They please me not.” Those young persons are worthy of praise who have the mind, manner, and character of pious, old, wayworn men. “For surely age is not that which lives long or has many years. Wisdom among men is the true gray hair, and an unspotted life true old age,” as it says in Wisdom 4:8–9.

St. Christina too, when she was only twelve years old, gave glory to Christ with her death. Flocellus, in the days of Caesar Anthony, was only ten years old. Mammes of Caesarea was only seven. Agrippitus, in the days of Alexander of Mammea, was fifteen, as also was Agapetus (in Marullus, bk. 5, ch. 5). In Nicephorus, a little boy climbs up to his mother at the stake and yields himself to burning. Another mother of Edessa took her boy with her to church that he might be a little martyr at her side. (See the appendix to the Vitae Patrum Majores.)

The faithful schoolmaster Modestus carefully instructed Vitus in the catechism, which angered his pagan father. Therefore he struck the dear child. At last the matter came before Diocletian, who had Vitus, his tutor, and his mother [nurse] Crescentia put in jail, and afterwards boiled into bubbling pitch and molten lead, and (since God performed miracles as He did with John), thrown before wild beasts. At last, however, he was mercilessly matyred on the gallows. But when the innocent boy prayed with a loud voice: Domine, libera me! “O Lord, deliver me!” a great storm arose and the earth shook, so that Diocletian was compelled to leave the martyrs and escape. Meanwhile, the child was released by an angel and, being taken from this life by a blessed death, was transported to a better one.

What a veritable Vitus! Jesus meae vitae ipsius scopus, “Jesus has been the aim of my life,” as Emperor Jovinian's motto runs. Vitus was a friend of the Lord Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and died to His glory, refusing to be stained by idolatry. Vitavit vitia idolatrica, et spe vitae aeternae superavit omnes dolores in hac vita. He shunned idolatry, and by hope of eternal life he endured all the sorrows of this life in Christian patience. Neither did the span of his life depend on the will of his enemies, but it rested in the hands of the Lord Jesus. For him, too, Christ was his Life, as St. Paul says in Philippians 1:21.

In former times the Gospel for this day was Matthew 10:16[–22]: “Behold, I send you forth as lambs in the midst of wolves,” etc. But since I treated this in Funeral-Bands, part 2, let us on this occasion look at the meaning of the name Vitus and examine the noble saying of the Lord Jesus, Ego vivo, et vos vivetis, “I live, and ye too shall live” [John 14:19]. But that it may be done prosperously, pray with me: God be gracious unto me, deliver me feet from slipping, that I may walk before Thee in the light of the living. Amen.

(Translated from Valerius Herberger, Hertz-Postilla… [ed. Leipzig, 1721], vol. 2, p. 190. Text: © 2012 Matthew Carver.)

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