“You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do you also. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them who foretold of the coming of the Just One; of whom you have been now the betrayers and the murderers.”
When he had concluded these words, the speaker was led away and stoned to death by his audience.
Now, before anyone seizes upon this episode as an argument for always speaking politely, we had better note that, although the above utterance did anger the Jews of Jerusalem to the point of murder, it won for its author, Saint Stephen, the glorious and eternal recompense of being Christ’s Protomartyr: the first to shed his blood for the Catholic Faith.
Since Saint Stephen’s time, speeches like his have been no rarity in the annals of the Church. For it has become increasingly clear through the centuries that the kind of talk that gets you into trouble may also get you canonized.
Despite representations made by the modern school of hagiographers, the saints are not always smiling, are not always mild-mannered and consoling, do not have a good word for everyone. The saints find this world a far-from-rosy place, and are breathtakingly blunt in announcing their findings. Whether they are berating the enemies of Christ, or giving Christians a needed prodding, or simply insisting on the truths of the Catholic Faith, they leave no doubt that one requirement for being an exemplary member of the Church Militant is a measure of militancy.
A notion of the impact that the saints have made as preachers can be inferred from the titles that have been both popularly and officially bestowed on them: Saint Anthony of Padua, “Hammer of Heretics”; Saint John Capistrano, “Scourge of the Jews”; and Saint Gaspar del Bufalo, “Hammer of Freemasons.”
Of these three, Saint John Capistrano has undoubtedly had the most competitors for his title. During two thousand years, the Jews have remained the most tenacious, dangerous foes of Christ and His Church; and saints in every age have lashed out against them. A typical expression of this saintly anti-Jewishness are the following unminced words of Saint John Chrysostom, fourth century Bishop of Constantinople and Doctor of the Universal Church: “The synagogue is worse than a brothel ... it is the den of scoundrels, and the repair of wild beasts, the temple of demons devoted to idolatrous cults ... a place of meeting for the assassins of Christ ... a den of thieves, a house of ill fame, a dwelling of iniquity, a refuge of devils, a gulf and abyss of perdition ... Whatever name even more horrible could be found will never be worse than the synagogue deserves.”
Earlier in the fourth century, an eighteen-year-old girl of Alexandria had taken it on herself to do some equally straightforward preaching. Summoned before the Emperor of the East, Catherine of Alexandria had won for herself a martyr’s crown by announcing to the enraged tyrant: “Furthermore, it is necessary for you to believe the Catholic Faith and to be baptized, as must every man to save his soul!”
The sad realization that courage like Saint Catherine’s was vanishing from the world moved Saint Gregory VII, just before his death in 1085, to excoriate Christendom with this appraisal: “There are in the world thousands of men who risk death every day at the summons of their lords. Yet, when the interests of the King of Heaven, our Redeemer, are at stake, how many Christians shrink, not from death only, but even from the hatred of other men! And the few — thanks be to God for those few — who dare to resist the wicked openly, and to face death, are not only unsupported by their brethren, but are accused by them of imprudence, and indiscretion, and are treated as fools.”
It was, in large part, the strength of Saint Gregory VII that made it possible for another pope, Blessed Urban II, to organize the First Crusade in 1095. Blessed Urban’s rallying-cry to the Catholic world (“Mark out a path all the way to the Holy Sepulchre, and snatch the Holy Land from that abominable people.”) has a doubly-sharp significance in our day, when the Land of Christ has been given over to His Crucifiers. Likewise meaningful today, are the fiery words of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who preached the Second Crusade: “Will you allow the infidels to contemplate in peace the ravages they have committed? The living God has charged me to declare to you that He will punish them who will not avenge Him against His enemies.”
Blessed Bernardine of Feltre, fifteenth century Franciscan friar, besides perpetuating the name of the great Saint Bernard, continued also the high tradition of Catholic preaching. Here is a part of one of his discourses, on a perennial theme: “Canon law prohibits all intercourse with Jews, especially their employment as physicians. The presence of Christians at Jewish feasts is expressly indicted. Yet the Jew Leo celebrated the wedding of his son with a feast that lasted eight days, and how many crowded to his banquets, to his balls! In the present day, nearly everyone who is suffering from illness openly calls in a Jewish doctor.”
Perhaps the most outstanding holy preacher of modern times is Saint John Mary Vianney, the beloved Cure of Ars. The following extract from a sermon delivered by this heavenly patron of all parish priests will indicate that, among the saints, soft talk and watered doctrine are still anathema: “My children, why are there no Sacraments in other religions? Because there is no salvation there. We have the Sacraments at our disposal because we belong to the religion of salvation.”
The great Jesuit missionary, Saint Francis Xavier, has left us a sample of the way he stormed Heaven, in his famous “Prayer for Infidels.” Lately, non-saints have taken to editing this prayer, so as to minimize its contrast with their own emasculated professions of Faith. Here is the uncensored version, as Saint Francis Xavier wrote it, and as it used to be said by millions of Catholics during the annual Novena of Grace: “O Eternal God, Creator of all things, remember that the souls of infidels have been created by Thee out of nothing, and formed after Thine image and likeness. Behold, O Lord, how, to the dishonor of Thy name, Hell is being filled with these souls ... ”
The year 1958 marks the one hundredth anniversary of the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Bernadette Soubirous, a fourteen-year-old peasant girl of Lourdes, in France. After her visitation from the Queen of Heaven, Bernadette entered a convent of the Sisters of Charity of Nevers. There she spent the remaining years of her short life, and offered convincing demonstrations that her spiritual fiber was that virile variety from which saints are made. “My gentle Jesus,” she prayed, “give me a great love of the Cross; and if I do not die through the cruelty of the Jews, I will die by the violence of my love.”
As a final and, we hope, clinching instance of prayerful militancy, we offer the following death-bed exclamation of Saint Therese, the Little Flower of Jesus — probably the most loved saint of modern times: “How happy I would have been to fight at the time of the Crusades or, later on, to fight against the heretics. Be assured that I should not have been afraid of the fire. Oh, is it possible that I should die in bed!”
Called by the Church the “Angelic Doctor,” Saint Thomas Aquinas is among the most celebrated of our holy teachers. The celestial qualities of his work, however, do not commit him to ethereal matters, nebulously discussed. To the embarrassment of so many contemporary theologians, Saint Thomas teaches, in a representative passage, that Christian states would be doing a service to God and man if they were to put to death all those whom the Church condemns for spreading heretical doctrines.
And, in his letter, De Regimine Judaeorum, Saint Thomas gives detailed instructions for Catholic rulers who must deal with Jews. He cites as Christian “Law” the principle that “Jews, in consequence of their sin, are or were destined to perpetual slavery; so that sovereigns of states may treat their goods as their own property; with the sole proviso that they do not deprive them of what is necessary to sustain life.” Saint Thomas’ concluding advice: “And to your last question: whether it is correct that all Jews in your realm should be obliged to wear some special sign to distinguish them from the Christians. To this the answer is plain and in conformity with the decision given by the General Council. Jews of both sexes and in all Christian lands should on all occasions be distinguished from other people by some particular dress.”
Saint Thomas Aquinas’ Franciscan contemporary and friend, Saint Bonaventure, enjoyed the unique honor of being the first child to take the part of the Infant Jesus in a public representation of the Holy Crib of Bethlehem. Saint Bonaventure, at the age of two, was placed in a village “manger scene” by Saint Francis of Assisi. And when Bonaventure grew to young manhood and joined Saint Francis’ order, he retained always in his learned teaching the guileless-ness of a child and a sharp Christmas Crib clarity. In his Breviloquium we find this sample: “Because outside the unity of faith and love which makes us sons and members of the Church, no one can be saved, hence if the Sacraments are received outside the Church, they are not effective for salvation, although they are true sacraments. However, they can become useful if one returns to Holy Mother the Church, the only Spouse of Christ, whose sons alone Christ the Spouse deems worthy of inheritance.”
One of the most familiar forms for presenting Christian doctrine is the question-and-answer pattern of the catechism. And of all the compilers of catechisms, none has been more honored by the Church than the Jesuit theologian, Saint Peter Canisius. Writing at the time of the Protestant Revolt, when the unity of Christendom was being sundered, Saint Peter Canisius swept aside all cloudy notions of just who in Europe was still entitled to the Christian name. In his Catechism, he asks: “Who is a Christian?” And answers: “He who confesses the salutary doctrine of Jesus Christ, true God and true man, in His Church. Hence, he who is truly a Christian condemns and detests thoroughly all cults and sects which are found outside the doctrine and Church of Christ everywhere, and among all peoples, as for example, the Jewish, the Mohammedan, and the heretical cults and sects; and he firmly assents to the same doctrine of Christ.”
Beyond the teaching tradition of the great fathers and doctors of the Church, there lies a further and broader field of Christian instruction. Is it that “teaching by example” which makes every one of the saints’ lives a lesson to be studied and learned. Again, as in their writings, sermons, and prayers, it is the sharpness and clarity, the strength and intransigence of their actions which distinguish the life-stories of the saints.
Although there is small likelihood that any of our readers will ever be in a position to expel an entire community of infidel Jews from the limits of a given Christian nation, still, the fact that the Church’s saints in the past have done this (as Saint Louis IX of France did in 1254) is a valuable lesson for Catholics — and in an infidel-ridden country like our own, a consoling one.
More practically (and the examples could be multiplied by thousands) we might learn fortitude in the Faith from Saint Thomas More, who stood out for the true religion against, as he thought, every Catholic bishop in England; we might learn integrity from Saint Jane Frances de Chantal, who threw the gifts of a Calvinist admirer into the flames and told him that in such a manner will heretics burn in Hell; we might learn courage from an apostle like the North American martyr, Saint Isaac Jogues, who escaped once from his savage Indian captors only to beg permission to return to his work among them, and to certain martyrdom.
But from a later American apostle, Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, the tireless nun who died at Chicago in 1917, we can learn that most important lesson for contemporary Catholics. It has been preserved for us in Mother Cabrini’s own words: “We let ourselves be overcome by human respect, and cease to show ourselves true followers of Our Lord before the world ... We see truth trodden underfoot, and we remain silent. Why? Because we are cowards. Oh, how we need to renew our faith, to rekindle our hearts in the sublime principles of our holy religion.”