Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume X: October. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Asterius, Bishop of Amasea in Pontus, Father of the Church
WE learn from the writings of this holy prelate that in his youth he applied himself to the study of eloquence and the law, and pleaded for some time at the bar. But the love of God ceased not to raise an interior voice in his soul which seemed continually to exhort him to devote himself wholly to the spiritual service of his neighbour. In obedience to this call he renounced his profession and preferments in the world, and entered himself among the clergy. Upon the death of Eulalius, archbishop of Amasea, he was unanimously placed in that metropolitical see. Always zealous for the purity of the Catholic faith, he taught its most holy maxims, and laboured assiduously to inspire his flock with its perfect spirit. He appeared in the midst of his people as a vessel filled with that spirit, and communicating the same from the overflowing fulness of his own heart, as St. Gregory describes the good pastor. For it is a vain and foolish presumption and a scandalous profanation for a man to set up for a doctor of penance, patience, humility, and holy charity, who is himself a stranger to those virtues. St. Asterius in his sermons recommends alms deeds with an energy which shows charity to the poor to be his favourite virtue. Avarice, luxury, and all other vices he paints in colours which set their deformity in a true light, and inspire men with abhorrence. He lived to a very advanced age; speaks of the persecution of Julian as an eye-witness,1 and survived the year 400. For, in his sermon against the calends, which he preached on New-Years Day, he says that Eutropius was consul the foregoing year, which was in 399. He loudly exerts his zeal against the riots of that day, derived from paganism, and declaims against the noise and tumultuous wishes of a happy new year from door to door, in which idle employ many lose that time which they ought rather to employ in dedicating to God the first fruits of the year by prayer. He says that the church then kept the feasts of Christs birth, resurrection, and epiphany, or of lights; likewise the feasts of martyrs. But asks: What is the festival which Christians keep on the calends and in riots? The ancients style St. Asterius blessed, and a divine doctor who, as a bright star, diffused his light upon all hearts.2
We have extant several sermons of St. Asterius,3 which, though few, are an immortal monument of his masterly eloquence and genius no less than of his piety. His reflections are just and solid, and the expression natural, elegant, and animated; he abounds in lively images and descriptions both of persons and things, which he always beautifies by masterly strokes. In these he discovers a great strength of imagination, and a commanding genius, and moves the inmost springs of the soul. His homily on Daniel and Susanna is a masterpiece. In that on SS. Peter and Paul he teaches and often repeats the prerogative of jurisdiction which St. Peter received over all Christians from the East to the West: and says that Christ made him his vicar, and left him the father, pastor, and master of all those who should embrace the faith.4 In his panegyric of St. Phocas, the martyr at Sinope,5 he established manifestly the invocation of saints, the honouring of their relics, pilgrimages to pray before them, and miracles wrought by them.6 In the following sermon, On the Holy Martyrs, he says: We keep through every age their bodies decently enshrined, as most precious pledges; vessels of benediction, the organs of their blessed souls, the tabernacles of their holy minds. We put ourselves under their protection. The martyrs defend the church, as soldiers guard a citadel. The people flock in crowds from all quarters, and keep great festivals to honour their tombs. All who labour under the heavy load of afflictions fly to them for refuge. We employ them as intercessors in our prayers and suffrages. In these refuges the hardships of poverty are eased, diseases cured, the threats of princes appeased. A parent, taking a sick child in his arms, postpones physicians, and runs to some one of the martyrs, offering by him his prayer to the Lord, and addressing him whom he employs for his mediator in such words as these: You who have suffered for Christ, intercede for one who suffers by sickness. By that great power and confidence you have, offer a prayer in behalf of fellow-servants. Though you are now removed from us, you know what men on earth feel in their sufferings and diseases. You formerly prayed to martyrs, before you were yourself a martyr. You then obtained your request by asking; now you are possessed of what you asked, in your turn assist me. By your crown ask what may be our advancement. If another is going to be married, he begins his undertaking by soliciting the prayers of the martyrs. Who, putting to sea, weighs anchor before he has invoked the Lord of the sea by the martyrs?7 The saint describes with what magnificence and concourse of people the feasts of martyrs were celebrated over the whole world. He says, the Gentiles and the Eunomian heretics, whom he calls New Jews, condemned the honours paid to martyrs, and their relics; to whom he answers: We by no means adore the martyrs, but we honour them as the true adorers of God. We lay their bodies in rich shrines and sepulchres, and erect stately tabernacles of their repose, that we may be stirred up to an emulation of their honours. Nor is our devotion to them without its recompence; for we enjoy their patronage with God, &c. He says, the new Jews, or Eunomians, do not honour the martyrs, because they blaspheme the King of Martyrs, making Christ unequal to his Father. He tells them that they ought at least to respect the voice of the devils, who are forced to confess the power of the martyrs: Those, says he, whom we have seen bark like dogs, and who were seized with phrenzy, and are now come to their senses, prove by their cure how effectual the intercession of martyrs is. He closes this sermon with a devout and confident address to the martyrs. See Photius, Biblioth. Cod. 271; St. Austeriuss fourteen homilies, published by F. Combefis, in Auctar. Bibl. Patr. t. 1, p. 1, with extracts from several others in Photius, loc. cit. and seven homilies on the Psalms, published by Cotelier, Mon. Græc. vol. 2, p. 1; see also Tillem. t. 10; Du Pin, vol. 3, p. 53; Fabricius, Bibl. Gr. l. 5, c. 28, § 8, vol. 8, p. 607; Oudin, t. 1, p. 892; Ceillier, &c.
Note 3. Published by F. Combefis in his Auctarium to the Bibliotheca Patrum. The fourteen first are undoubtedly genuine. Several of the latter appear uncertain, and perhaps are the productions of Asterius, bishop of Scythopolis, mentioned by St. Jerom in his Catalogue. [back]