SAINT PETER CHRYSOLOGUS
BISHOP AND DOCTOR OF THE CHURCH
The same divine Providence, which would not that the Church should be deprived of the consolation of keeping, during Advent, the feast of some of the apostles, who announced to the Gentiles the coming of the Messias, has also willed that the holy doctors, who defended the true faith against heretics, should be represented in this important season of the Catholic year.
Two of them, Saint Ambrose and Saint Peter Chrysologus, shine as two brilliant stars in the firmament of the Church during Advent. It is worthy of note, that both of them were the zealous avengers of that Son of God whom we are preparing to receive. The first was the valiant opponent of the Arians, whose impious doctrine taught that Jesus, the object of our hopes, is merely a creature and not God; the second was the adversary of Eutyches, whose sacrilegious system robs the Incarnation of the Son of God of all its glory, by asserting that, in this mystery, the human nature was absorbed by the Divinity.
It is this second doctor, the holy bishop of Ravenna, that we are to honour to-day. His pastoral eloquence gained for him a great reputation, and a great number of his sermons have been handed down to us. In almost every page we find passages of the most exquisite beauty, though we also occasionally meet with indications of the decay of literature, which began in the fifth century. The mystery of the Incarnation is a frequent subject of the saint’s sermons, and he always speaks upon it with a precision and enthusiasm, which show his learning and piety. His veneration and love towards Mary, the Mother of God, who, in that very age, had triumphed over her enemies by the decree of the Council of Ephesus, inspire him with thoughts and language which are extremely fine. Let us take a passage from the sermon on the Annunciation.
“God sends to the Virgin an angelic messenger, who, whilst he brings graces, gives her the entrusted pledge, and receives hers. Then does Gabriel return with Mary’s plighted troth. But, before ascending to heaven, there to tell the consent promised him by the Virgin, he delivers to her the gifts due to her virtues. Swiftly does this ambassador fly to the bride, that he may assert God’s claim to her as His own. Gabriel takes her not from Joseph, but he restores her to Christ, to whom she was espoused when she was first formed in the womb. Christ, therefore, did but take His own, when He thus made Mary His bride. It is not a separation that He thus produces, but a union with Himself of His own creature by becoming Incarnate in her womb.
But let us hearken to the angel’s words. Being come in, he said unto her: ‘Hail full of grace! the Lord is with thee!’ These words are not a mere salutation; they convey the heavenly gift. ‘Hail’, that is, Take, 0 Mary, the grace I bring thee; fear not; this is not the work of nature. ‘Full of grace’, that is, thou art not in grace as others are; thou art to be filled with it. ‘The Lord is with thee’! What means this, but that He is coming to thee not merely to visit thee, but to enter within thee by the new mystery of becoming thy Child! ‘Blessed art thou among women’. How fittingly does he add these words! They imply, that they who heretofore were mothers with the curse of Eve upon them, now have the blessed Mary as their joy, and honour, and type: and whereas Eve was by nature the mother of children of death, Mary is by grace the mother of children of life.’
In the following passage from another sermon, the holy doctor teaches us with what profound veneration we ought to contemplate Mary during these days when God is still residing in her womb.
“What reverence and awe are shown to that inner chamber of a king, where he sits in all the majesty of his power! Therein no man may enter that is a stranger, or unclean, or unfaithful. The usages of courts require, that when men come to pay their homage, everything must be the best, and fairest, and most loyal. Who would go to the palace-gate in rags? Who would go, that knew he was odious to the prince? So it is with the sanctuary of the divine Spouse. No one is permitted to come nigh, but he that is of God’s family, and is intimate, and has a good conscience, and has a fair name, and leads a holy life. Within the holy place itself God receives but the Virgin, and spotless virginity. Hence learn, 0 man, to examine thyself : who thou art, and what thou art, and what merits thou hast. Ask thyself, after this, if thou mayst dare to penetrate into the mystery of the birth of thy Lord, or canst be worthy to approach that living sanctuary, wherein reposes the whole majesty of thy King, and thy God.”
Let us now listen to our holy mother the Church, who thus speaks of our saint:
“Peter, surnamed, for his golden eloquence Chrysologus, was born at Forum Cornelii (Imola) in Emilia, of respectable parents. Turning his mind to religion from his childhood, he put himself under Cornelius, the bishop of that city, who was a Roman. In a short while he made such progress in learning and holiness of life, that, in due time, the bishop ordained him deacon. Not long after, it happened that the archbishop of Ravenna having died, the inhabitants of that city sent, as usual, to Rome the successor they had elected, that this election might be confirmed by the holy Pope Sixtus III. Cornelius, who was also sent in company with the deputies of Ravenna, took with him the young deacon. Meanwhile, the apostle Saint Peter, and the holy martyr Apollinaris, appeared to the Roman Pontiff in his sleep. They stood with the young levite between them, and ordered the Pontiff to create him, and none other, archbishop of Ravenna.
The Pontiff, therefore, no sooner saw Peter than he recognized him as the one chosen by God; and rejecting the one presented to him, he appointed Peter to the metropolitan Church of that city, in the year of our Lord 433. At first, the deputies from Ravenna were dissatisfied at this. decision of the Pope; but, having been told of the vision, they readily acquiesced in the divine will, and received the new archbishop with the greatest reverence.
Peter, therefore, being, though reluctant, consecrated archbishop, was conducted to Ravenna, where he was received with the greatest joy. by the emperor Valentinian, and Galla Placidia. the emperor’s mother, and the whole people. On his part, he told them that he asked of them but this, that since he had not refused this great burden for their salvation’s sake, they would make it their study to follow his counsels, and to obey the commandments of God. He then buried in the city the bodies of two saints, after having embalmed them with the most precious perfumes; Barbatian, a. priest, was one; and the other, Germanus, bishop of Auxerre, whose cowl and hair-shirt he cIaimed as his own inheritance.
He ordained Projectus and Marcellinus bishops. In the town of Classis he erected a fountain of an incredible size, and built some magnificent churches in honour of several saints, of Saint Andrew among the rest. The people had a custom of assisting at certain games, on the first day of January, which consisted of theatrical performances and dances; the saint repressed these by the severity with which he preached against them. One of his expressions deserves to be handed down: ‘He that would play with the devil, can never enjoy the company of Jesus.’
At the command of Pope St. Leo I., he wrote to the Council of Chalcedon against the heresy of Eutyches. He answered Eutyches himself by another epistle, which has been added to the acts of that same Council in the new editions, and has been inserted in the ecclesiastical annals.
In his sermons to the people he was so earnest, that at times his voice completely failed him, as in his sermon on the woman healed by our Lord, as mentioned in the ninth chapter of St. Matthew; on which occasion his people of Ravenna were so affected, and so moved to tears, that the whole church rang with their sobbings and prayers, and the saint afterwards thanked God that he had turned the failure of his speech into the gain of so much love.
After having governed that Church, in a most holy manner, about eighteen years, and having received a divine warning that his labours were soon to end, he withdrew to his native town. There he visited the church of St. Cassian, and presented an offering of a large golden diadem, set with most precious stones, which he placed upon the high altar: he also gave a golden cup, and a silver paten, which imparts to water poured on it the virtue of healing the bites of mad dogs, and of assuaging fevers, as frequent instances have attested. He then took leave of those who had accompanied him from Ravenna, admonishing them to spare no pains in electing for their pastor him who was the most worthy. Immediately after this he turned in humble prayer to God, that, through the intercession of his patron St. Cassian, he would mercifully receive his soul; and calmly passed out of this life, on the third of the Nones of Dccember (Dec. 3), about the year 450. His holy body was buried, amidst the tears and prayers of the whole city, near the body of the same St. Cassian: there it is venerated even at this day; though Ravenna possesses and venerates one of the arms, which was enshrined in gold and gems and placed in the basilica Ursicana.”
Holy pontiff, who didst open thy lips and pour out on the assembly of the faithful, in the streams of thy golden eloquence, the knowledge of Jesus, cast an eye of compassion on the Christians throughout the world, who are watching in expectation of that same God-Man, whose two Natures thou didst so courageously confess. Obtain for us grace to receive Him with the sovereign respect which is due to a God who comes down to His creatures, and with the loving confidence which is due to a Brother who comes to offer Himself in sacrifice for His most unworthy brethren. Strengthen our faith, most holy doctor! for the love we stand in need of comes from faith.
Destroy the heresies which lay waste the vineyard of our Father; and uproot that frightful pantheism, which is the form under which the heresy thou didst combat is still among us. May the numerous Churches of the East abjure that heresy of Eutyches which reigns so supreme amongst them and gives them the knowledge of the ineffable mystery of the Incarnation only to blaspheme it. Pray that the children of the Church may show to the judgements of the apostolic See that perfect obedience, to which thou didst so eloquently urge the heresiarch Eutyches, in the epistle thou didst address to him, and which will ever be precious to the world: ‘We exhort thee above all things, most honoured brother, that thou receive with obedience whatsoeyer has been written by the most blessed Pope of the city of Rome: for, blessed Peter, who lives and presides in his own See, shows the truth of faith to all them that seek it.’ (Letter 25)
Dom Prosper Gueranger
The Liturgical Year – Volume 1