Category Archives: December

Dec 28 – Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs – Baptism of Blood, Martyrdom by Grace

«La Vierge à l’Enfant entourée des saints Innocents», huile sur bois (Hauteur. 138 cm ; largeur. 100 cm) de Pierre Paul Rubens. – Œuvre executée vers 1618, appartenant au musée du Louvre (Paris). – Ref. Nº INV 1763, photographiée lors de l’exposition temporaire « Rubens et son Temps » au musée du Louvre-Lens. Please click on the image for greater detail.

-by Joseph Heschmeyer, a former lawyer and seminarian, he blogs at Shameless Popery.

“Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, in which we praise as saints and martyrs the children murdered in Jesus’ stead by King Herod, who feared the news of the birth of a rival king.

The biblical basis for this feast is Matthew 2:16, which says that “Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men.”

Prudentius (348-c. 413) wrote his beautiful Salvete flores Martyrum in their honor, as part of his larger poem in honor of the Feast of the Epiphany. There are various English translations, but I’m fond on this one by Nicholas Richardson:

Hail, all you flowers of martyrdom,
whom, at life’s very door,
Christ’s persecutors slew, as storms
the new-born roses kill!

O tender flock, you are the first
of offerings to Christ:
before his altar, innocent,
with palms and crowns you play.

But do the Holy Innocents deserve to be called saints, much less martyrs? After all, “martyr” means “witness,” and it’s not as if they were voluntarily witnesses who went to their deaths for the sake of Christ. As Charles Péguy observes, the Holy Innocents were “the only Christians assuredly who on Earth had never heard tell of Herod” and “to whom, on Earth, the name of Herod meant nothing at all.” Even calling them “Christians” seems wrong, since they weren’t baptized and knew no more about Jesus than they did about Herod. Right?

Wrong. Jesus speaks of his own death as a kind of baptism, saying during his public ministry, “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:50). The early Christians picked up on this. Though insisting that baptism is necessary for salvation, Christians like St. Cyprian are clear that “they certainly are not deprived of the sacrament of baptism who are baptized with the most glorious and greatest baptism of blood.”

Similarly, Tertullian describes the blood and water flowing from the pierced side of Christ (John 19:34) as the “two baptisms,” which Jesus gives us “in order that they who believed in his blood might be bathed with the water; they who had been bathed in the water might likewise drink the blood.” He views this “second font,” martyrdom, as “the baptism which both stands in lieu of the fontal bathing when that has not been received, and restores it when lost.” So the early Christians didn’t view martyrdom as an exception to the need to be baptized. Rather, they viewed it as a sort of baptism—in blood instead of water.

So it’s not an exaggeration to say that the Holy Innocents—who died for Christ, and even died in Jesus’ place—were baptized in blood. We can be assured of their salvation, since Jesus promised that “whoever loses his life for My sake, he will save it” (Luke 9:34).

And all this despite their young age. St. Irenaeus, writing c. 180 AD, says that God

suddenly removed those children belonging to the house of David, whose happy lot it was to have been born at that time, that He might send them on before into His kingdom; He, since He was himself an infant, so arranging it that human infants should be martyrs, slain, according to the Scriptures, for the sake of Christ, who was born in Bethlehem of Judah, in the city of David.

This is an important detail: St. Matthew presents the death of these children not simply as a tragedy, but also as a fulfillment of “what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah” (Jer. 31:15; Matt. 2:16-18). So these infants are martyrs in a unique way, since their death helps to prove that the child Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.

Their death also reveals Christ as the New Moses. Prudentius makes this connection in his poem:

’Mid his coevals’ streams of blood
the Virgin’s child, alone
unharmed, deceived the sword, which robbed
these mothers of their babes.

Thus Moses, savior of his race,
and Christ prefiguring,
did once escape the foolish laws
which evil Pharaoh made.

So there are biblical reasons for understanding the Holy Innocents as martyrs in the sense of “witnesses.” Their death tells us something about Jesus Christ.

Cyprian, writing in the middle of the third century, describes the Holy Innocents not only as martyrs, but as a sort of prototype for all martyrs:

The nativity of Christ witnessed at once the martyrdom of infants, so that they who were two years old and under were slain for His name’s sake. An age not yet fitted for the battle appeared fit for the crown. That it might be manifest that they who are slain for Christ’s sake are innocent, innocent infancy was put to death for His name’s sake. It is shown that none is free from the peril of persecution, when even these accomplished martyrdoms.

By their death, the Holy Innocents also teach us something of the ruthlessness of the Enemy, as well as something about the Christian life—namely, that we’re not promised it will be easy. After all, if even these pure and innocent children should suffer such a fate, why should we expect to be spared hardship or persecution?

But Cyprian also highlights where we tend to go wrong in our thinking about martyrdom. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking of martyrdom as a kind of good work that the martyr does for Christ. But the early Christians warned against this. The Martyrdom of Polycarp, written within a year of Polycarp’s death in 155, contrasts St. Polycarp’s martyrdom with the failed martyrdom of Quintus, who “forced himself and some others to come forward voluntarily” to trial, in an attempt to be martyred, only to end up apostatizing and offering sacrifice to the pagan gods.

Instead, martyrdom is a grace that—if need be—we receive from Christ. As Cyprian says, “the cause of perishing is to perish for Christ. That Witness Who proves martyrs, and crowns them, suffices for a testimony of His martyrdom.” So it’s not the Holy Innocents who make themselves martyrs. It’s ultimately Christ Who makes them saints and martyrs.

Just as Christ makes saints of babies in water baptism every day, He gave the Holy Innocents the grace of becoming saints and martyrs through the baptism of blood, so that (in Péguy’s words), those “who knew nothing of life and received no wound except that wound which gave them entry into the kingdom of heaven.”

Love & Merry Christmas,

Dec 25 – St Anastasia of Smirmium, Serbia (281-304 AD) – Martyr, Deliverer of Potions, the Healer, “Nobis quoque peccatoribus”

-please click on the image for greater detail

“To us sinners, also, your servants, who hope in Your many mercies, deign to grant some share and fellowship with Your holy Apostles and Martyrs: John, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas, Ignatius, Alexander, Marcellinus, Peter, Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia, and all Your Saints.”
-from the Roman Canon of the Mass

Prior to Vatican II, the commemoration Mass for the feast of Saint Anastasia takes place at the second Mass of Christmas, the Mass at Dawn (Introit Lux fulgebit). One might think: This is Christmas, one of the principal feasts of the liturgical year — no time for thinking about saints! And yet, we have here a gentle, persistent reminder that if our Lord Jesus Christ is “the light [that] shall shine upon us this day,” the saints are the garment of light He wears about Him, the radiant beams that shine from His holy face. We are reminded, too, that we are members of a family in which our Lord is the firstborn of many brethren, and that we need our older brothers and sisters to pray for us as we approach so bright and burning a light.

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-scale model of Smirmium, Pannonia Secunda (Serbia), late 3rd century AD, please click on the image for greater detail

-Great Martyr Anastasia, the Deliverer from Potions (Byzantine icon, 14th-15th century, State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia), please click on the image for greater detail

The basilica of Sant’Anastasia al Palatino in Rome was built in the late 3rd century – early 4th century, possibly by a Roman woman named Anastasia. Later the church was entitled to the martyr with the same name, Anastasia of Sirmium. Anastasia is called the deliverer of potions and healer due to her intercessions are credited with the protection of the faithful from poison and other harmful substances.

In the 5th century, the relics of St Anastasia were transferred to Constantinople, where a church was built and dedicated to her. Later, the relics, including her skull, were transferred to the Monastery of St. Anastasia the Pharmokolitria, Chalkidiki of Greece, near Mount Athos. In 2012, the relics were stolen and have not been recovered.

St. Anastasia, also known as Anastasia of Sirmium and Anastasia the Pharmakolytria or “Deliverer from Potions,” is a Christian saint and martyr who suffered for Christ during the time of Diocletian’s Christian persecutions. She is one of the seven women commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass.  She is called deliverer of potions since she traveled from city to city caring for Christian prisoners which is how she came to Smirmium.

Anastasia was from Rome and belonged to a wealthy family. Her father Praepextatus was a Pagan but her mother Fausta, was Christian. Anastasia was born around 280 AD. She was known to be beautiful and virtuous in every way. Without the knowledge of her father, her mother baptized her, when she was an infant. Fausta secretly educated Anastasia to follow the path of Christianity and was raised with Christian values.

When her mother passed away, Anastasia’s father got her married to Publius Patricius, who was also a pagan. Publius was a loving husband to Anastasia until he discovered that she believed in Christ. During the persecutions of Diocletian, the husband tortured her and confined her to the house as a slave. Even though she was tormented, she was delighted that she could suffer in the name of Jesus Christ. Fortunately, she had to tolerate these abuses for only a short period of time, as Publius soon drowned to his death.

Anastasia became a young widow after Publius’s death and she never remarried. She distributed her property to those less fortunate and suffering. Anastasia spent her time traveling from city to city helping the poor, treating the sick and provided the prisoners with whatever they needed every day. She would clean the wounds of injured people and would provide solace to those who were in agony. She was so gifted that she could heal and save many from the ill-effects of potions, evil spells, poisons and other dangerous elements through her interventions and prayers. She was given the title “Deliverer from Potions,” because she would often heal many from the effects of poisons and potions.

Anastasia was arrested in Illyricum and taken to the prefect of the district for being Christian. He tried to persuade her to deny her faith and threatened her with torture. Anastasia could not be swayed, so she was given to the pagan priest Ulpian in Rome. He presented her with the choice between riches or suffering, luxuries or torture devices. She chose torture.

He gave her three days to reconsider. Enamored by her beauty, Ulpian decided he would defile her purity. However, once he went to touch her he was struck blind and his head burst into extreme pain. On his way to his pagan temple, he fell and died.

-please click on the image for greater detail

St. Anastasia, now free, set out to care for imprisoned Christians, along with Theodota, a pious young widow and faithful helper. The news of her good deeds and the miracles that she performed spread far and wide. She became so reputed in such short time that she was arrested under the persecutions of Diocletian, the Roman Emperor. After her companion, Theodota was martyred, Anastasia was ordered death by starvation and was starved for 60 days. But she was not harmed. It is said the martyred Theodota visited her and fed her during this time.

The judge then decided the prisoners, including Anastasia and Eutychianus, would be killed by drowning. They all entered a boat with holes in the base, but St. Theodota appeared to them and steered the boat to shore. Once they landed, Anastasia and Eutychianus baptized 120 men.

Following yet another escape, Anastasia was taken to the island of Palmaria. She was staked to the ground with her arms and legs stretched out and burned alive. She died in 304 AD.  “Anastasis” is Greek for Resurrection.

O holy saint Anastasia, healer and minister to captives, who did suffer greatly as a martyr while relieving the suffering of the poor and the sick, pray for us who are ill in soul and in body. Relieve us by your intercessions from the illnesses of our minds, from all evil temptation that seeks to disturb us, and from the suffering of our many afflictions. We ask these things boldly of you as you boldly approach the throne of our Lord Jesus Christ Who alone is the Healer and Lover of Mankind. Amen.


Dec 24 – Christmas Midnight Mass Sermon by St Francis de Sales

-Adoration of the Shepherds by Dutch painter Matthias Stomer, 1632, please click on the image for greater detail

“Among the solemnities of Holy Church there are three which have been celebrated at all times and which have their original source in that great feast of Passover which was observed in the Old Law.

These three feasts are all called Pasch, or Passage, or Passover (Ex. 12:11). Today’s feast was instituted to commemorate Our Lord’s passage from His Divinity to our humanity.

The second passage is that from His Passion and death to His Resurrection, His passage from mortality to immortality, which we celebrate all during Holy Week and at Easter.

The third passage is celebrated at Pentecost, the day on which Our Lord adopted the Gentiles (Cf. Acts 2:17, 39) and permitted them to pass from infidelity to the happiness of becoming His well-beloved children, the greatest happiness possible for the Church. All these feasts find their source in today’s mystery.

But you may say at this point that it is not usual to preach at night. And I reply that it was indeed the custom in the primitive church, while it was in its first flower and vigor.

St. Gregory bears witness to this in his homily for this day. The early Christians even said the three nocturns of Matins separately, rising three times during the night for this purpose.

Moreover, they went to choir seven times a day to recite the Office, thereby fulfilling verse 164 of Psalm 118 (119). St. Augustine says that they even preached three times on this feast: first at Midnight Mass, then at the Mass, and finally at the Mass during the day.

So great was the fervor of those early Christians that nothing wearied them. The least among them was of grater value than the best of religious of today.

We have become so cold since those early days that we must now shorten the Mass, the Office, and sermons.

But this is not to the point. Rather, I intend to speak to you first of which the Church sets before us this day, and then of what we should hope for and do in light of this faith.

If I do not finish all that I want to say I shall do so later in the day, if God gives us the time.

Before beginning my discourse I wish to remind you that I like to use analogies when I preach. I will do so here, too.

Now in all that we do or plan, if we are wise we keep its purpose or goal in mind (Ecclus. [Sir.] 7:40 [36]), for we should have one.

For example, if someone intends to build a house or a palace he must first consider whether it is to be a lodging for a vine-dresser or peasant or if it is for a lord, since obviously he would use entirely different plans depending on the rank of the person who is to live there.

Now the Eternal Father did just that when He build this world. He intended to create it for the Incarnation of His Son, the Eternal Word.

The end or goal of His work was thus its beginning, for Divine Wisdom had foreseen from all eternity that His Word would assume our nature in coming to earth.

This was His intent even before Lucifer and the world were created and our first parents sinned.

Our true and certain tradition holds that sixteen hundred twenty-two years ago Our Lord came to this world and, in assuming our nature, became man.

Thus we are celebrating the Savior’s birth on earth. But before speaking of that birth let us say something of the Word’s divine and eternal birth.

The Father eternally begets His Son, who is like Him and co-eternal with Him. He had no beginning, being in all things equal to His Father.

Yet we speak of the son being born for us from the Father’s bosom, from His substance, as we speak of the rays coming forth from the bosom of the sun, even though the sun and its rays are but one and the same substance.

We are forced to speak thus, recognizing the inadequacy of our words. Were we angels we would be able to speak of God in a far more adequate and excellent way.

Alas, we are only a little dust, children who really do not know what we are talking about. The Son then, begotten of the Father, proceeds from the Father without occupying any other place.

He is born in Heaven of His Father, without a mother. As sole origin of the Most Blessed Trinity the Father remains the Virgin of virgins.

On earth the Son is born of His Mother, Our Lady, without a father. Let us say a word about these two births, for which we have true and certain proofs, as I said a while ago.

The Evangelist (Lk. 1:35) assures us that the Divine Word became flesh in the most holy Virgin’s womb when the angel announced to her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and that the power of the Most High would overshadow her.

This is not, of course, to say that in Jesus Christ there are two persons.

In the hypostatic union, the Word became flesh is true God and true man, and this without any separation, from the moment of His Conception.

Some examples may help. Naturalists tell us that honey is made of a certain gum called “manna,” which falls from the sky, and unites or mixes with flowers which in turn draw their substance from the earth.

In joining together, these two substances result in the one honey. In our Lord and Master, Divinity has similarly united our nature with His own, and God has made us sharers of the Divine nature in some fashion (2 Peter 1:4), for He was made man like us (Phil. 2:7; Heb. 4:15).

Note that there is a difference between honey collected from thyme and all other kinds. It is much more excellent than that called heraclean, which is made from the aconite and other flowers.

As soon as we taste it we recognize that it is form thyme, because it is both bitter and sweet. Heraclean honey, on the other hand, causes death.

It is similar with Our Lord’s sacred humanity. Springing from Mary’s virginal soil, His humanity is very different from ours, which is wholly tainted by corruption and sin.

Indeed, because the Eternal Father willed His only-begotten Son to be the Head and absolute Lord of all creatures (Col. 1:15–18), He willed that the most holy Virgin should be the most excellent of all creatures, since He had chosen her from all eternity to be the Mother of His Divine Son.

In truth, Mary’s sacred womb was a mystical hive in which the Holy Spirit formed this honeycomb wither most pure blood.

Further, the Word created Mary and was born of her, just as the bee makes honey and honey the bee, for one never sees a bee without honey nor honey without a bee.

At His birth we have very clear proofs of Our Lord’s Divinity. Angels descend from Heaven and announce to the shepherds that a Savior is born (Luke 2:8–14) to them. Magi come to adore Him (Matt. 2:1–11).

This clearly shows us that He was more than man, just as, on the contrary, His moaning as He lies in His manger shivering from the cold shows us that He was truly man.

Let us consider the Eternal Father’s goodness. Had He so desired He could have created His Son’s humanity as He did that of our first parents, or even given Him an angelic nature, for it was in His power to do so.

Had he willed to do so Our Lord would not have been of our nature. We would not then have had any alliance with Him.

But His goodness was such that He made Himself our brother in order that He might both give us an example (Rom. 8:29; Heb. 2:11–17) and render us sharers in His glory.

It was for this reason that He willed to be of Abraham’s seed, for the most holy Virgin was indeed of Abraham’s race, for it is said of her: Abraham and his seed (Lk. 1:55; Rom. 1:3; Gal. 3:16).

I leave you at the feet of this blessed Mother and Child so that, like little bees, you may gather the milk and honey that flow from these holy mysteries and her chaste breasts, while waiting for me to continue, if God grants us the grace and gives us the time. I beg Him to bless us with His benediction. Amen.”

The Sermons of St. Francis de Sales for Advent and Christmas, pp. 82–86.


Dec 23 – Sts Victoria, Anatolia & Audax (d. 250 AD) – Virgins, Roman Soldier & Martyrs

-Victoria and Anatolia are portrayed amongst the mosaic Procession of Virgins in the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, 22 martyrs shown offering their crowns of martyrdom to the Christ, between Saints Paulina and Christina.. Originally a heretical Arian church, erected by the Ostrogothic king Theodoric the Great as his palace chapel during the first quarter of the 6th century (as attested to in the Liber Pontificalis). This Arian church was originally dedicated in 504 AD to “Christ the Redeemer”. It was reconsecrated in 561 AD, under the rule of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I, under the new name “Sanctus Martinus in Coelo Aureo” (“Saint Martin in Golden Heaven”). Suppressing the Arian church, the church was dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours, a foe of Arianism.The basilica was renamed again in 856 AD when relics of Saint Apollinaris were transferred from the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, please click on the image for greater detail.

A Christian noblewoman from Rome during the reign of Emperor Trajanus Decius, Anatolia together with her sister, Victoria, were forced into arranged marriages with two pagan noblemen. Wishing to devote herself entirely to Christ, Anatolia refused to marry her suitor, Titus Aurelius. Aurelius asked her sister, Victoria, to plead his case. Saint Victoria was initially content with marrying the pagan as she hope that she would be able to convert him. But Victoria was converted to her sister’s Christian views on virginity and broke off her engagement to her fiancé, Eugenius.

The two suitors then seized the girls and attempted to starve them into submission in order to break their faith and convince them to marry. Instead of weakening, their faith in Christ became more resolute. While under house arrest they sold all of their belongings, gave their money to the poor, and converted the servants and guards who attended them to Christianity. Finally, they were denounced as Christians.

Anatolia was killed at “Thora” (identified with present-day Sant’Anatolia di Borgorose). Her legend states that she was at first locked up with a poisonous snake. The snake refused to bite her, and a soldier named Audax was sent into her cell to kill her. The snake attacked him instead, but Anatolia saved him from the snake. Impressed by her example, he converted to Christianity and was martyred by the sword with her.

Saint Victoria’s suitor get’s word of what happened and therefore continues to try his best to convince Saint Victoria to change her mind. He goes through periods of great kindness towards her followed with periods of extreme ill-treatment for years. Finally frustrated, St. Victoria was stabbed through the heart at the request of her rejected suitor, Eugenius, at Trebula Mutuesca (today Monteleone Sabino).  It is recorded elsewhere, it was Egenius himself who was her executioner.  Her executioner was immediately struck with leprosy and died six days later and was eaten by worms.  Iconography in medallions honoring St Victoria often show a knife recalling the method of her martyrdom.

Due to the translation of their relics, their cult spread across Italy. Some relics of Saint Victoria were transferred in 827 AD by Abbot Peter of Farfa from the Abbey to Mount Matenano in the Picene area (roughly the south of Le Marche) because the Abbey was besieged by Saracens. The town of Santa Vittoria in Matenano is named after her. Ratfredus, a later Abbot of Farfa, brought the body from Farfa to Santa Vittoria in Matenano on 20 June 931 AD.

-the Abbey at Farfa, please click on the image for greater detail

The bodies of Anatolia and Audax were transferred by Abbot Leo to Subiaco around 950. At an unknown date, a scapula of Anatolia was translated to the present-day Sant’Anatolia di Borgorose and an arm of the saint was translated to the present-day Esanatoglia. The bodies of Anatolia and Audax still rest at Subiaco in the basilica of Santa Scholastica, under the altar of the sacrament. A simulacrum and other relics of Saint Victoria are currently on display at the Santa Maria della Vittoria church in Rome.

St Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, Ireland also claims to hold St Victoria’s body, preserved in wax, along with a chalice containing some of her blood. These were sent to Kilkenny in 1845 by Pope Gregory XVI.


Dec 22 – St Zeno (Zenon/Zinon) of Nicomedia (d. 302 AD) – Martyr

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Zeno of Nicomedia, Bithynia (modern day Izmit, Turkey) was a Roman soldier and commander living during the reign of Roman Emperors Diocletian and Maximian. During their fierce persecution of the Church they were condemning many Christians to death, including any soldiers who professed faith in Jesus Christ. In Nicomedia alone, as many as 20,000 Christians were burned alive as they gathered inside a cathedral on Christmas Day. Standing nearby when the Emperor was offering a sacrifice to a the goddess Ceres, St. Zeno, a Christian, mocked his devotion to a soulless god. St. Zeno was immediately seized and his jaw shattered for speaking out. He was beheaded, giving him the martyr’s crown along with his sons, Concordius and Theodore.

-please click on the image for greater detail

-please click on the image for greater detail


Dec 30 – Meet the Inquisitor: Bernard Gui, OP (1261-1331), Bishop of Tui, Bishop of Lodève, Chief Inquisitor of Toulouse, France

Portrait of Bernard Gui c.1261-1331, Bishop of Lodeve and inquisitor of the Dominican Order. Engraving, 19th century. (Photo by: Leemage/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Perhaps the most famous of all medieval inquisitors, and certainly one of the most important and influential, Bernard Gui (1261-1331) is best known for his monumental inquisitor’s handbook, Practica inquisitionis heretice pravitatis (The Practice of the Inquisition of Heretical Depravity), written around 1324. In case you have an Inquisitorial (Inquisitional?) trial coming up, you can still pick up a copy at Amazon. (pssst…the have EVERYTHING!)

Although he never described anything like the full stereotype of witchcraft as it would appear in later centuries, he did include in this work several sections dealing with learned demonic magic, or necromancy, as well as more evidently popular forms of sorcery. The Practica inquisitionis became one of the most widely read of all medieval inquisitorial manuals, second only to the later Directorium inquisitorum (Directory of Inquisitors) of the Catalan inquisitor Nicolas Eymeric. Gui’s descriptions of sorcery thus seem very important, particularly in terms of shaping later clerical, and especially inquisitorial, thought on this subject.

Bernard Gui, or Bernard Guidoni was born in 1261 in Royères, France, and is one of the more well known Dominican inquisitors.

At the age of 19, Bernard entered the Order of Preachers and was made the prior of Albi ten years later. In 1306, he was sent to Avignon where he performed administrative service and served on two papal diplomatic missions. Bernard wrote a number of historical and theological works, which are more indicative of his primary historical significance as an administrator and historian rather than as an inquisitor. However, he is popularly known for his treatise on heresy, Practica Inquisitionis Heretice Pravitatis or “Conduct of the Inquisition into Heretical Wickedness” which contains instructions on the duties and rights of the inquisitor and how to approach the questioning of Manicheans, the Waldensians, the False Apostles, and the Beguines. Bernard was made bishop of Lodève, France in 1324, were he was noted for his energetic and skillful management. He died on December 30th 1331.

Modern scholars tend to view Bernard positively, as he reconciled many more people to the Church than he condemned. However, he does rank as one of the more zealous of inquisitors because Bernard viewed the inquisition as a kind of debate competition where the heretic is trying to conceal and hide his heresy, while the inquisitor is attempting to convince the audience that the heretic is merely putting on a show, trying to distract from their errors. This led to Bernard emphasizing the performative aspects of the inquisitor’s actions in an effort to win the hearts and minds of the audience (and hence the local community) so that they would stay loyal to the truth faith.

Gui oversaw trials which led to over 900 guilty verdicts in fifteen years of office. People convicted of heresy during the time of the Inquisition were turned over to the secular arm (nobles and city leaders) for punishment. The Church was not allowed to shed blood, but the rack and pear were not considered blood spilling. Out of all those convicted during examination by Gui, 42 were executed.

Between 1307 and 1323, at the behest of Pope Clement V and Pope John XXII, Gui served as the chief inquisitor of Toulouse. He also assisted the inquisitors of Carcassone, Geoffrey of Ablis and his successor Beaune, and the bishop of Pamiers, Jacques Fournier (later Pope Benedict XII). Gui’s inquisitorial work took place in the Languedoc, a region that remained a “stronghold of heresy”, in particular Catharism, despite the church’s repeated efforts in the area throughout the thirteenth century (such as the Albigensian Crusade of 1209–1229).

In this capacity Gui travelled the region, meeting with local clergy and officials, publicly preaching about the danger of heretical teachings, and inviting those guilty of heretical sins to voluntarily confess in exchange for light penance. He then interrogated those who had been accused of heretical activity by penitents but failed to come forward voluntarily, with the secular authorities enlisted to apprehend and, if necessary, torture the accused. (A papal bull of 1252 permitted torture in cases in which there were “enough partial proofs to indicate that a full proof—a confession—was likely, and no other full proofs were available”, although “a confession made after or under torture had to be freely repeated the next day without torture or it would have been considered invalid”.)

The inquisitor would then hold a ‘general sermon’ (sermo generalis), assembling the local populace and publicly declaring the names of those judged guilty of the sin of heresy and their concomitant penances. Typical penalties included fasting, scourging, pilgrimage, the confiscation of property, or the wearing of large yellow crosses (with “the arms of the crosses [to be] two-and-a-half fingers in breadth, two-and-a-half palms in height, and two palms in width”) on the front and back of outer clothing. As canon law prohibited the clergy from spilling blood, those who refused to repent or who had relapsed into heresy were handed over to the secular authorities for punishment, typically execution by burning at the stake.

During his tenure Gui held eleven such ‘general sermons’ in the cathedral of St Stephen in Toulouse and the cemetery of St John the Martyr in Pamiers, at which he judged 627 individuals guilty of heresy. A further nine individuals were also judged guilty at smaller events. In total, the tribunals headed by Gui convicted 636 individuals of 940 counts of heresy. Recent research has determined that no more than 45 of the individuals convicted by Gui (approximately 7% of the total) were executed, while 307 were imprisoned, 143 ordered to wear crosses, and nine sent on compulsory pilgrimages. The Inquisition kept excellent records. It was required to.

-illustrations from a copy of Gui’s Arbor genealogiae regum francorum produced in the 1330s, showing the Carolingian kings Lothair and Louis V

-by Steve Weidenkopf

“The Frenchman Bernard Guidonis (usually shortened to Gui) was born twenty years after the death of Pope Gregory IX (r. 1227-1241), but that pontificate shaped the course of Bernard’s life. In 1231, Gregory IX promulgated the bull Ille humani generis, wherein he established the procedures for papally appointed clergy as inquisitors charged with preserving orthodox Catholic beliefs and teachings throughout Christendom.

Not much is known about Bernard’s early life, but he enters the story of the Church in the late thirteenth century, when, as a young man, he joined St. Dominic’s Order of Preachers. After profession of his final vows, Bernard continued his studies and became a teacher for fifteen years. The order recognized Bernard’s brilliance and his humble and patient demeanor and sent him to the Dominican house in the town of Albi in 1306 as a lecturer in theology.

-14th-century illustration of Gui receiving a blessing from Pope John XXII

Although it had been more than seventy-five years since the end of the bloody Albigensian Crusade, called by Pope Innocent III to eradicate the heresy of the Cathars (or Albigensians)—who taught a form of Gnosticism, wherein material things are evil and spiritual things are good—erroneous teachings still held sway in the region. What was needed was an inquisition—and for there to be an inquisition, there had to be dedicated inquisitors.

Appointment as a papal inquisitor required candidates to be at least forty years old, trained in theology, and notable for a virtuous life. The inquisitor was expected to protect the unity and security of the Church and society from the poison of heresy. As a matter of charity, the inquisitor worked to save the jeopardized soul of the heretic and to reconcile the errant to the Church.

Bernard met all these criteria. So he was appointed an inquisitor, and he spent the next several decades prosecuting heretics, including Albigensians, the False Apostles, the Fraticelli, and the Waldensians.

Bernard wrote about his dealings with the Waldensians, named for Peter Waldo of Lyons, a merchant who, in 1170, decided to sell his goods, give to the poor, and abandon his family. His message attracted followers, and those who joined him began calling themselves the Humiliati or the Poor Men of Lyons. The archbishop of Lyons prohibited their preaching, but to no avail. The Waldensians taught contempt for Church authority, denied the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, forbade the taking of oaths, and argued against the death penalty as criminal punishment.

In his book The Waldensian Heretics, Bernard provided insight for his fellow inquisitor, derived from personal experience, on how to handle these crafty disruptors. Bernard illustrated how difficult it was to interrogate Waldensians because of “the deception and duplicity with which they answer questions.” He provided an example of an interrogation with a heretic: “When he is asked if he knows why he has been arrested, he answers very sweetly and with a smile, ‘My Lord, I should be glad to learn the reason from you.’ Asked about the faith which he holds and believes, he answers, ‘I believe everything that a good Christian ought to believe.’ Questioned as to whom he considers a good Christian, he replies, ‘He who believes as Holy Church teaches him to believe.’ When he is asked what he means by ‘Holy Church,’ he answers, ‘My lord, that which you say and believe is the Holy Church.’ If you say to him, ‘I believe that the Holy Church is the Roman Church, over which the lord pope rules; and under him, the prelates,’ he replies, ‘I believe it.’ Meaning that he believes that you believe it.”

Bernard’s extensive career and experience with different heretical groups, coupled with his scholarly nature, led him to write a manual for inquisitors known as the Practica. Divided into five parts, the Practica was a handbook containing procedures for the arrest of suspects of heresy, sample inquisitorial edicts and decrees, examples of sentences, a treatise on the duty of inquisitors, a collection of papal documents concerning heresy and inquisitors, and descriptions of various heretics and how to recognize them. In describing the ideal inquisitor, Bernard stressed piety and humility as key attributes. He believed also that an inquisitor should be zealous for the Faith and the salvation of souls, in control of his emotions, unyielding, free from malice and anger, not motivated by cruelty or revenge, wary of laziness and gullibility, and imbued with a spirit of compassion. Moreover, Bernard emphasized that each inquisitorial case must be considered on its own merits and by its own unique circumstances and characteristics. No two investigations were alike.

During his decades-long and impressive inquisitorial career, Bernard passed 930 judgments in heresy cases, an average of fifty-four per year or a little more than one a week. Most of his cases resulted in imprisonment or penitential sentences, with only forty-two obstinate heretics remanded to the secular authority for capital punishment. The resolute Bernard illustrated that the focus of the medieval inquisitors was the salvation of the souls of those who embraced false teachings through a patient and charitable investigation. He embodied the attributes of the perfect inquisitor, with justice and mercy at the forefront. Bernard did not seek appointment as an inquisitor, but he accepted the position with humility and strove diligently to protect the faithful from dangerous heretical teachings that threatened their eternal salvation.

Although known mostly for his career as an inquisitor, Bernard was also a historian and author of works on the liturgy and the lives of the saints. Pope John XXII (r. 1316–1334) made Bernard a bishop. He spent the remainder of his days focused on the pastoral care of the people of God entrusted to him.  and he went to his eternal reward.”

He died in his episcopal residence at Lauroux castle on 30 December 1331, and following his funeral in Lodève Cathedral his body was transported to Limoges to be buried in the church of the Dominican monastery. However, his tomb was looted during the late-sixteenth-century Wars of Religion.

Love & truth,