-“The Martyrdom of Saint Barbara”, Lucas Cranach the Elder, German, ca. 1510, according to legend, Saint Barbara was executed by her pagan father, Dioscorus, when she refused to recant her Christian faith. Luxuriously dressed, she seems here to calmly accept her fate as she kneels before Dioscorus, who raises his sword to behead her. The four sinister-looking witnesses may be the Roman authorities who had tortured her in an attempt to persuade her to sacrifice to pagan gods, and who later sentenced her to death. The coat of arms indicates that Cranach painted this panel for a member of the Rem family, who were wealthy merchants in Augsburg. Oil on linden. Dimensions: Overall 60 3/8 x 54 1/4 in. (153.4 x 137.8 cm); painted surface 59 3/8 x 53 1/8 in. (150.8 x 134.9 cm), please click on the image for further detail.
“We have almost made it halfway through the month of November, yet the odor of sanctity from All Saints Day remains potent. It was only a couple of weeks ago that we celebrated that cloud of witnesses and intercessors who continually cheer us on, ourselves the runners moving toward the heavenly city. While the cloud is thick with people from all states of life and backgrounds, one particular bunch stands out. It is those who wear the color red, a color that speaks eloquently like the blood of Christ. This holy bunch are the martyrs. It was their blood which, poured out like the blood of Christ, became the seed for a hearty harvest. What seeds do they seek to plant in our own hearts while we still live under that cloud? They hope for us to become rhetoricians and statesmen for the city of God, the city they now dwell in and the one we run towards. What is a rhetorician? What does a statesman do? Saint Augustine provides us with some understanding and inspiration.
From the writings of St. Augustine, a “theology of martyrdom” is clear. Specifically, a theology of the martyr as a rhetorician and statesman. Doctor Adam Ployd of Yale University argues, “Christ uses the martyrs as ideal rhetors and statesman of the city of God” (Augustine, Martyrdom, and Classical Rhetoric, p. 6).
In the days of the Roman Empire, a rhetorician was someone who had been trained to speak persuasively for the purpose of causing others to take action. It was typical for the emperor to use rhetoricians to speak on his behalf to motivate or sway citizens. For St. Augustine, the ideal Christian rhetorician was able to carry out a similar essential task. He wrote, “[They] are able to live in such a way that they not only gain a reward for themselves but also provide an example to others, and their form of life becomes like an abundance of eloquence” (On Christian Teaching, 4.29.61). Before the rhetorician even opens his mouth to speak, he should live according to the wisdom he proclaims. In this exact way, the martyrs declaim the most effective and persuasive speech. What could be more eloquent than their very blood poured out for the sake of the city of God? Each of us, too, lives as a rhetorician for the heavenly city, even if our blood is never poured out. There are countless ways each day we can give witness to the heavenly city, by boldly proclaiming our love for the truth found in Jesus Christ.
In addition to the rhetorician, the statesman was traditionally responsible for establishing right order in society. For the Christian statesman, his goal is “to rule in this world in a way that conforms as closely as possible to the virtues that govern the heavenly city,” most especially through love of God and neighbor (Ployd, p. 124). How, then, does the martyr act as a statesman? Essentially, he serves as an instrument of Christ by helping to establish the right order which comes from loving God and neighbor. When the martyr sheds his blood for the heavenly king, the minds and hearts of onlookers turn toward the heavenly city where God is loved first and foremost. In our own lives, in our own day, we bring about this right order by placing God first and encouraging others to do likewise. Like the traditional statesman, this right ordering both in our own hearts and in those around us establishes authentic peace.”
Love, and His will be done,
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "“Si comprehendus, non est Deus.” -St Augustine, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "And above all, be on your guard not to want to get anything done by force, because God has given free will to everyone and wants to force no one, but only proposes, invites and counsels." –St. Angela Merici, “Yet such are the pity and compassion of this Lord of ours, so desirous is He that we should seek Him and enjoy His company, that in one way or another He never ceases calling us to Him . . . God here speaks to souls through words uttered by pious people, by sermons or good books, and in many other such ways.” —St. Teresa of Avila, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it. I want an intelligent, well-instructed laity… I wish you to enlarge your knowledge, to cultivate your reason, to get an insight into the relation of truth to truth, to learn to view things as they are, to understand how faith and reason stand to each other, what are the bases and principles of Catholicism, and where lie the main inconsistences and absurdities of the Protestant theory.” (St. John Henry Newman, “Duties of Catholics Towards the Protestant View,” Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England), "We cannot always have access to a spiritual Father for counsel in our actions and in our doubts, but reading will abundantly supply his place by giving us directions to escape the illusions of the devil and of our own self-love, and at the same time to submit to the divine will.” —St. Alphonsus Ligouri, "The harm that comes to souls from the lack of reading holy books makes me shudder . . . What power spiritual reading has to lead to a change of course, and to make even worldly people enter into the way of perfection." –St. Padre Pio, "Screens may grab our attention, but books change our lives!" – Word on Fire, "Reading has made many saints!" -St Josemaría Escrivá, "Do you pray? You speak to the Bridegroom. Do you read? He speaks to you." —St. Jerome, from his Letter 22 to Eustochium, "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, "God here speaks to souls through…good books“ – St Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, "You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori "Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" -St. John Bosco " To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer." —St. Thomas Aquinas, OP. "Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us. Both are good when both are possible. Otherwise, prayer is better than reading." –St. Isidore of Seville “The aid of spiritual books is for you a necessity.… You, who are in the midst of battle, must protect yourself with the buckler of holy thoughts drawn from good books.” -St. John Chrysostom