are the men, through whom the light of Christ's gospel shone on
thee, O Rome, and through whom thou, who wast the teacher of error,
wast made the disciple of Truth.”
Rome owes its high position to these Apostles. The whole world,
dearly-beloved, does indeed take part in all holy anniversaries,
and loyalty to the one Faith demands that whatever is recorded
as one for all men's salvation should be everywhere celebrated
with common rejoicings. But, besides that reverence which to-day's
festival has gained from all the world, it is to be honoured with
special and peculiar exultation in our city, that there may be
a predominance of gladness on the day of their martyrdom in the
place where the chief of the Apostles met their glorious end.
For these are the men, through whom the light of Christ's gospel
shone on thee, O Rome, and through whom thou, who wast the teacher
of error, wast made the disciple of Truth. These are thy holy
Fathers and true shepherds, who gave thee claims to be numbered
among 195 the heavenly kingdoms, and built thee under much better
and happier auspices than they, by whose zeal the first foundations
of thy walls were laid: and of whom the one that gave thee thy
name defiled thee with his brother's blood. These are they who
promoted thee to such glory, that being made a holy nation, a
chosen people, a priestly and royal state, and the head of the
world through the blessed Peter's holy See thou didst attain a
wider sway by the worship of God than by earthly government.
For although thou weft increased by many victories, and didst
extend thy rule on land and sea, yet what thy toils in war subdued
is less than what the peace of Christ has conquered.
The extension of the Roman empire was part of the Divine scheme.
For the good, just, and Almighty God, Who has never withheld His
mercy from mankind, and has ever instructed all men alike in the
knowledge of Himself by the most abundant benefits, has by a more
secret counsel and a deeper love shown pity upon the wanderers'
voluntary blindness and proclivities to evil, by sending His co-equal
and co-eternal Word. Which becoming flesh so united the Divine
Nature with the human that He by lowering His Nature to the uttermost
has raised our nature to the highest. But that the result of
this unspeakable Grace might be spread abroad throughout the world,
God's Providence made ready the Roman empire, whose growth has
reached such limits that the whole multitude of nations are brought
into close connexion. For the Divinely-planned work particularly
required that many kingdoms should be leagued together under one
empire, so that the preaching of the world might quickly reach
to all people, when they were held beneath the rule of one state.
And yet that state, in ignorance of the Author of its aggrandisement
though it rule almost all nations, was enthralled by the errors
of them all, and seemed to itself to have fostered religion greatly,
because it rejected no falsehood. And hence its emancipation
through Christ was the more wondrous that it had been so fast
bound by Satan.
On the dispersing of the Twelve, St. Peter was sent to Rome.
For when the twelve Apostles, after receiving through the Holy
Ghost the power of speaking with all tongues, had distributed
the world into parts among themselves, and undertaken to instruct
it in the Gospel, the most blessed Peter, chief of the Apostolic
band, was appointed to the citadel of the Roman empire, that the
light of Truth which was being displayed for the salvation of
all the nations, might spread itself more effectively throughout
the body of the world from the head itself. What nation had not
representatives then living in this city; or what peoples did
not know what Rome had learnt? Here it was that the tenets of
philosophy must be crushed, here that the follies of earthly wisdom
must be dispelled, here that the cult of demons must be refuted,
here that the blasphemy of all idolatries must be rooted out,
here where the most persistent superstition had gathered together
all the various errors which had anywhere been devised.
St. Peter's love conquered his fears in coming to Rome. To this
city then, most blessed Apostle Peter, thou dost not fear to come,
and when the Apostle Paul; the partner of thy glory, was still
busied with regulating other churches, didst enter this forest
of roaring beasts, this deep, stormy ocean with greater boldness
than when thou didst walk upon the sea. And thou who hadst been
frightened by the high priest's maid in the house of Caiaphas,
hadst no fear of Rome the mistress of the world. Was there any
less power in Claudius, any less cruelty in Nero than in the judgment
of Pilate or the Jews' savage rage? So then it was the force
of love that conquered the reasons for fear: and thou didst not
think those to be feared whom thou hadst undertaken to love.
But this feeling of fearless affection thou hadst even then surely
conceived when the profession of thy love for the Lord was confirmed
by the mystery of the thrice-repeated question. And nothing else
was demanded of this thy earnest purpose than that thou shouldst
bestow the food wherewith thou hadst thyself been enriched, on
feeding His sheep whom thou didst love.
S. Peter was providentially prepared for his great mission. Thy
confidence also was increased by many miraculous signs, by many
gifts of grace, by many proofs of power. Thou hadst already taught
the people, who from the number of the circumcised had believed:
thou hadst already founded the Church at Antioch, where first
the dignity of the Christian name arose: thou hadst already instructed
Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, in the laws of
the Gospel-message: and, without doubt as to the success of the
work, with full knowledge of the short span of thy life didst
carry 196 the trophy of Christ's cross into the citadel of Rome,
whither by the Divine fore-ordaining there accompanied thee the
honour of great power and the glory of much suffering.
Many noble martyrs have sprung from the blood of SS. Peter and
Paul. Thither came also thy blessed brother-Apostle Paul, "the
vessel of election," and the special teacher of the Gentiles,
and was associated with thee at a time when all innocence, all
modesty, all freedom was into jeopardy under Nero's rule. Whose
fury, inflamed by excess of all vices, hurled him headlong into
such a fiery furnace of madness that he was the first to assail
the Christian name with a general persecution, as if God's Grace
could be quenched by the death of saints, whose greatest gain
it was to win eternal happiness by contempt of this fleeting life.
"Precious," therefore, "in the eyes of the LORD
is the death of His saints:" nor can any degree of cruelty
destroy the religion which is founded on the mystery of Christ's
cross. Persecution does not diminish but increase the church,
and the LORD'S field is clothed with an ever richer crop, while
the grains, which fall singly, spring up and are multiplied a
hundred-fold. Hence how large a progeny have sprung from these
two Heaven-sown seeds is shown by the thousands of blessed martyrs,
who, rivalling the Apostles' triumphs, have traversed the city
far and wide in purple-clad and ruddy-gleaming throngs, and crowned
it, as it were with a single diadem of countless gems.
No distinction must be drawn between the merits of the two. And
over this band, dearly-beloved, whom GOD has set forth for our
example in patience and for our confirmation in the Faith, there
must be rejoicing everywhere in the commemoration of all the saints,
but of these two Fathers' excellence we must rightly make our
boast in louder joy, for God's Grace has raised them to so high
a place among the members of the Church, that He has set them
like the twin light of the eyes in the body, whose Head is Christ.
About their merits and virtue, which pass all power of speech,
we must not make distinctions, because they were equal in their
election, alike in their toils, undivided in their death. But
as we have proved for Ourselves, and our forefathers maintained,
we believe, and are sure that, amid all the toils of this life,
we must always be assisted in obtaining God's Mercy by the prayers
of special interceders, that we may be raised by the Apostles'
merits in proportion as we are weighed down by our own sins.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, who livest et reignest with God
the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without