Burial of St. Stephen


The Finding of the Relics of St. Stephen, the First Martyr
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876


After St. Stephen, the first martyr, had been stoned to death by the Jews for having incontestably proved that Christ, Whom they had crucified, was the true Messiah, some pious men, filled with deep sorrow, buried him with all due reverence. Foremost among these was Gamaliel, who had formerly been a teacher, and later a disciple of St. Paul. He arranged everything so that the body of St. Stephen was carried, during the night, by some Christians, from the spot in which it lay, to his country-seat, which was a few miles from Jerusalem. In the course of time and in consequence of the persecution of the Christians in Judasa, the location of his tomb was forgotten, until it pleased the Almighty to reveal it in the time of the Emperor Honorius. There lived, at that period, in the place where St. Stephen was buried, a priest of the church of Jerusalem, named Lucian.

Gamaliel appeared to this holy man in his sleep and disclosed to him where the bodies of St. Stephen, Nicodemus, his son Abibon, and his own were lying, telling him, at the same time, to inform St. John, Bishop of Jerusalem, of this fact, and to say that it was the will of God that he should exhume them for the benefit of many men. Lucian awakening, and fearing it was but a dream, or perhaps even a delusion from Satan, did not tell the Bishop, but humbly prayed to God that, if it were a revelation from on high, He would grant him a repetition of the vision. To this effect, Lucian continued in prayer and fasting for eight days, when Gamaliel again appeared to him and repeated all he had said before. Lucian did not yet obey, but to be more certain, fasted and prayed eight days more. Gamaliel appeared to him for the third time, and, with a severe countenance, reproving him for not believing his words, commanded him to make the Bishop acquainted with the facts immediately, in order that the faithful might no longer be deprived of the benefits which they would obtain by the intercession of St. Stephen and the other Saints.

After this third apparition, Lucian could no longer doubt; and, betaking himself to the Bishop of Jerusalem, he communicated to him all that had happened. The joy of the holy Bishop and Patriarch was exceedingly great. He called the bishops and priests of the neighboring churches, and, accompanied by them and a great number of Christians, he went to the place indicated, and had the satisfaction of finding four coffins, on which were engraven the names of the saints above mentioned: St. Stephen, St. Nicodemus, St. Abibon, St. Gamaliel. When the coffins were reverently opened, there issued from them a fragrance as if the place had been filled with blooming flowers. More than seventy persons, some of whom were sick and others possessed by evil spirits were instantly restored to health, or relieved of their torments on touching the sacred relics, especially those of St. Stephen. The body of the protomartyr was carried with great solemnity to Jerusalem, and deposited in the church of Sion, the oldest and largest church in that city.

During the reign of Theodosius the Younger, it was transported to Constantinople, and thence to Rome in the reign of Pope Pelagius I. The remarkable discovery of the relics of St. Stephen and the miracles, which had been wrought at their touch, were soon known all over the Christian world. The heretics, who, at that time persecuted the church, were ashamed, and the faithful strengthened in the true faith and animated in their veneration for the protomartyr. All countries and cities applied for portions of the relics, and many were favored with them, to the great benefit of the people. Many received only some of the earth in which the holy body had rested; others, a piece of linen which had touched his coffin; but by the pious use of them, as many miracles were wrought as by the relics themselves. In St. Austin we have an indisputable witness of this, as he lived at the time of the discovery. Among other things, he tells us, in the twenty-second book of the "City of God," of many great miracles wrought, in his presence, by these relics, in the city of Hippo, of which he was bishop, as also in adjacent countries. A few of these we will here relate.

A blind woman's sight was immediately restored, by touching her eyes with a flower, which at her request had been laid on the relics of St. Stephen. Lucillus, a bishop, was cured of a dangerous fistula by devoutly carrying the sacred relics. Eucharius, a priest, arose again to life, when they placed upon his corpse a tunic which had rested on St. Stephen's body. Two men suffering with gout were cured by the same. A lad who was killed by being run over by a carriage, was not only restored to life, but his broken limbs were healed. A nun who had died, returned to life and health when her habit was laid on her after it had touched the sacred relics. Eleusinus placed the corpse of his child upon the spot where the relics of the saint had rested, and immediately the child lived again. Upon the head of Martial, a hardened Jew, his brotherin-law--a Christian--laid a flower, which had been on the altar near the relics, and the next day the Jew requested to be baptized. Two sisters, who were afflicted with epilepsy, were instantly cured by these relics. Many other miracles are narrated by St. Austin, and he concludes with these words: "If I alone were to relate what I know of the miraculous cures performed by St. Stephen at Calama and in its neighborhood, I should have to write many books, and yet not be able to collect all of them."

What does a non-Catholic think or say on reading or hearing these and many other things which the holy Fathers have written of the sacred relics? He rejects all these histories, and accuses St. Austin and other great teachers of falsehood and superstition. But if he believes even one of these miracles, how can he, according to the doctrines of his religion, condemn the veneration of relics and the invocation of the saints?


PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS

I. The many miracles which God wrought through the relics of St. Stephen, are a certain sign that the veneration of sacred relics and the invocation of the Saints are pleasing to Him and beneficial to us. If they had not been allowable, or not agreeable to the Almighty, He would not have wrought the miracles nor would He have bestowed such remarkable grace upon those who venerated the relics, or invoked the Saints. Be not misled, therefore by those who speak with contempt of sacred relics or reject and denounce the veneration and invocation of the Saints. Honor as was the ancient custom, the sacred relics, and reverence the Saints and implore their intercession, as friends of God, and our faithful advocates around His throne. The church has never adored Saints or relics. To those, therefore, who say to you, "The Catholics practice idolatry with the Saints and their relics," give the same answer that Daniel gave to each of the wicked judges, to whom he said: "Well hast thou lied against thy own head." "Imbecile!" writes St. Jerome to the heretic Vigilantius, "who has ever adored the holy martyrs? Who has taken man to be a God?" And elsewhere he says: "We honor the sacred relics because they are of those men who became martyrs for the sake of Him Whom we worship. We honor the servants, that the honor we bestow upon them may go to the Almighty, Who says : "They who receive you, receive me." Well may non-Catholics be opposed to sacred relics, as they are a continual proof of the truth of our holy religion, such as they cannot bring forward for their's; for never yet has any one died in their belief, at whose tomb miracles have been wrought by the power of the Almighty. Should not this alone be sufficient to open their eyes and bring them to the knowledge of the truth?

II. God revealed where the body of St. Stephen lay, and caused him to be greatly honored on earth; still greater will be the glory of this, sacred body, when at the resurrection, it will be again united to the soul. Your body will also be reunited to your soul, on the day of resurrection; for our faith teaches us, that we shall rise from the dead, and receive again the body which is now our's on earth. The reason for this is, that our body, which now partakes of our good or evil deeds, must then receive either the punishment or recompense we deserve. Hence there will be a great difference between the bodies of the just and those of sinners. Among other gifts, the body of the just will receive great beauty. Its splendor will surpass the brightness of the stars ; while the body of the sinner will be more hideous and repulsive than we can imagine. The soul of the just, united to the body, will rise to Heaven, where both will enjoy more bliss than the mind of man can conceive; while the soul of the sinner, with his body, after the judgment, will be precipitated into hell and there suffer inexpressible pains and torments, for all eternity. How will your body fare? Although I have already answered this question, several months ago, I will do so again. If you use the members of your body to commit sin and offend God, rest assured that, with your soul, it will be banished into hell, where it will suffer the most excruciating pain, as long as God remains God. If however, you use your body in the service of the Almighty, keep it unspotted by sin, patiently carry the crosses and trials God sends you to bear, it will, with your soul, be received into Heaven, where it will enjoy unspeakable happiness, as long as God remains God.

Hence if you love your body and desire for it eternal bliss, use it as long as you are on earth in the service of the Almighty, after the example of St. Stephen. Do not defile it with sin and vice. Bear patiently all it has to suffer, and do not use its members as instruments to offend Him Who has given them to you. Consecrate it entirely to God and His service, according to the admonition of St. Paul, who says : "I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies, a living sacrifice, wholly pleasing unto God; your reasonable service (Rom. xii)." Besides this, remember the advice which you have heard, and use it to your own benefit. If your body desires anything wrong, refuse it; otherwise it will have to suffer for it. If it encounters a difficulty in the service of God, if it has to suffer pains, use all the strength of your soul to make it suffer without complaint; as it will be greatly rewarded. Console yourself with the hope of your future resurrection, and reward, as the Machabees and other holy martyrs and confessors have done. Say with Job: "I know that my Redeemer liveth, and in the last day, I shall rise out of the earth and shall be clothed again with my skin, and in my flesh I shall see my God (Job, xix)."



Prayer from the Liturgical Year, 1909

What a precious addition to thy history in the sacred Books is furnished us, O Protomartyr, by the story of thy invention! We now know who were those "God-fearing men, who buried Stephen and "made great mourning over him." Gamaliel, the master of the Doctor of the Gentiles, had been, before his disciple, conquered by our Lord; inspired by Jesus to Whom in dying thou didst commend thy soul, he honoured after thy death the humble soldier of Christ with the same cares which had been lavished by Joseph of Arimathea, the noble counsellor, on the Man-God, and laid thy body in the new tomb prepared for himself. Soon Nicodemus, Joseph's companion in the pious work of the great Friday, hunted by the Jews in that persecution in which thou wert the first victim, found refuge near thy sacred relics, and dying a holy death was laid to rest beside thee.

The respected name of Gamaliel prevailed over the angry synagogue; while the family of Annas and Caiphas kept in its hands the priestly power through the precarious favour of Rome, the grandson of Hillel left to his descendants pre-eminence in knowledge, and his eldest line remained for four centuries the depositories of the only moral authority then recognised by the dispersed Israelites. But more fortunate was he in having, by hearing the Apostles and thyself, O Stephen, passed from the science of shadows to the light of the realities, from the Law to the Gospel, from Moses to Him Whom Moses announced; more happy than the eldest born, was the beloved son Abibas, baptized with his father at the age of twenty, and who, passing away to God, filled the tomb next to thine with the sweet odour of heavenly purity. How touching was the last will of the illustrious father, when, his hour being come, he ordered the grave of Abibas to be opened for himself, that father and son might be seen to be twin brothers born together to the only true light!

The munificence of our Lord had placed thee in death, O Stephen, in worthy company. We give thanks to the noble person who showed thee hospitality for thy last rest; and we are grateful to him for having, at the appointed time, himself broken the silence kept concerning him by the delicate reserve of the Scriptures. Here again we see how the Man-God wills to share His own honours with His chosen ones. Thy sepulchre, like His, was glorious; and when it was opened, the earth shook, the bystanders believed that heaven had come down; the world was delivered from a desolating drought, and amid a thousand evils hope sprang up once more. Now that our West possesses thy body and Gamaliel has yielded to Laurence the right of hospitality, rise up once more, O Stephen; and together with the great Roman deacon deliver us from the new barbarians, by converting them, or wiping them off the face of the earth given by God to His Christ.





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