Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Memorial of Saints Pontian and Hippolytus

Second Reading from the Office of Readings of the Liturgy of the Hours for August 13, the Optional Memorial of Pontian, pope and martyr, and Hippolytus, priest and martyr

Saint Pontian was ordained bishop of Rome in 231. In 235 he was banished to Sardinia by the Emperor Maximinus, along with the priest Hippolytus. There he resigned from his office and later died. His body was buried in the cemetery of Saint Callistus, while the body of Hippolytus was buried in a cemetery along the Via Tiburtina. The Roman Church sanctioned devotion to both martyrs at the beginning of the fourth century.

From a letter by Saint Cyprian, bishop and martyr

(Epist. 10, 2-3. 5; CSEL 3, 491-492, 494-495)

Invincible faith

With what praises can I extol you, most valiant brothers? What words can I find to proclaim and celebrate your brave hearts and your persevering faith? Examined under the fiercest torture, you held out until your ordeal was consummated in glory; it was not you who yielded to the torments but rather the torments that yielded to you. No respite from pain was allowed by the instruments of your torture, but your very crowning signaled the end of pain. The cruel butchery was permitted to last the longer, not so that it might overthrow the faith that stood so firm, but rather that it might dispatch you, men of God, more speedily to the Lord.

The crowd in wonder watched God's heavenly contest, this spiritual battle that was Christ's. They saw his servants standing firm, free in speech, undefiled in heart, endowed with supernatural courage, naked and bereft of the weapons of this world, but as believers equipped with the arms of faith. Tortured men stood there stronger than their torturers; battered and lacerated limbs triumphed over clubs and claws that tore them.

Savage and prolonged beating could not overcome such invincible faith, even when the bodies of God's servants were so mangled that no whole members were left to suffer punishment, but only wounds remained. Enough blood flowed to quench the fire of persecution, a glorious river to cool even the burning heat of hell. What a divine display it was, how sublime and magnificent! How pleasing did the sworn allegiance and loyalty of his soldiers render the dead in God's sight! In the psalms, where the Holy Spirit speaks to us and counsels us, it is written: Precious in the sight of God is the death of his holy ones. Rightly is that death called "precious," for at the price of blood it purchased immortality and won God's crown through the ultimate act of courage.

How happy Christ was to be there, how gladly he fought and conquered in such servants! He protects their faith and gives strength to believers in proportion to the trust that each man who receives that strength is willing to place in him. Christ was there to wage his own battle; he aroused the soldiers who fought for his name; he made them spirited and strong. And he who once for all has conquered death for us, now continually conquers in us.

How blessed is this Church of ours, so honored and illuminated by God and ennobled in these our days by the glorious blood of martyrs! In earlier times it shone white with the good deeds of our brethren, and now it is adorned with the red blood of martyrs. It counts both lilies and roses among its garlands. Let each of us, then, strive for the highest degree of glory, whichever be the honor for which he is destined; may all Christians be found worthy of either the pure white crown of a holy life or the royal red crown of martyrdom.


We are warriors now, fighting on the battlefield of faith, and God
sees all we do;
the angels watch and so does Christ.
--What honor and glory and joy to do battle in the presence of God,
and to have Christ approve our victory.

Let us arm ourselves in full strength
and prepare ourselves for the ultimate struggle
with blameless hearts, true faith and unyielding courage.
--What honor and glory and joy to do battle in the presence of God,
and to have Christ approve our victory.


may the loyal suffering of your saints, Pontian and Hippolytus,
fill us with your love,
and make our hearts steadfast in faith.

Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Let us praise the Lord.
--And give him thanks.

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