St. Vincent, deacon and paradigm of modern martyrs

Vincent was a deacon of Saragossa, Spain. He was arrested with his bishop by Dacian, governor of Spain around the year 304. Vincent was tortured for refusing to offer sacrifice to pagan gods or hand over sacred books. He was imprisoned, starved, racked, burned on an iron grate and torn with iron hooks. He then converted his warden and died from his wounds.

The mighty St. Augustine write of the Spanish martyr Vincent in ep. 276. Let’s taste a bit of this letter.

2. The world mounts a two-pronged attack on the soldiers of Christ. Notice carefully, brothers and sisters. It’s a two-pronged attack, I repeat, that the world mounts against the soldiers of Christ. It wheedles, you see, in order to lead them astray; it terrifies, in order to break them. Let us not be held fast by our own pleasures, let us not be terrified by someone else’s cruelty, and the world has been vanquished. Christ runs up to defend each approach, and the Christian is not vanquished.

If, in this passion of Vincent’s, one only gave thought to human powers of endurance, it begins to look unbelievable; if one acknowledges divine power, it ceases even to be wonderful. Such hideous cruelty was being unleashed on the martyr’s body, and such clam serenity being displayed in his voice; such harsh, savage punishments being applied to his limbs, such assurance echoing in his his words, that we would have imagined that in a marvelous way, while Vincent was suffering, it was someone else, not the speaker, that was being tortured.

Let us now fast forward many centuries to the present age.

In the recently published Il Libro Rosso dei Martyri Cinesi… The Red Book of Chinese Martyrs (Milano: Edizione San Paolo, 2006) there are recounted the first person accounts of the sufferings of Chinese Catholics under the Communist regime. Here is a very brief excerpt in my translation from the memories of Fr. Tan Tiande, from the warm south of China, sent to the frozen north for decades of forced labor and "reeducation". Even in the midst of terrible abuse in prison, Tiande never stopped bearing witness to his faith in God. His tormentors cracked down (p. 40):

"My crime was my conduct: preaching religion accounted as little my sentence. Given that this was the worse crime you could be accused of, I was dragged into a public gathering to be criticized and denounced as guilty. I was the "leading man", the object of criticism by my companions.

The "director" had bound my hands behind my back. The "make-up man" had hung a square sign around my neck which also hung down behind my back. The "director" led me onto the stage and read my crime to the public: frequently preaching religion in prison with no sign of penitence. The sentence was for life. When the sentence was pronounced, they made me lie down on the ground in front of the thousands of people there watching the show. My legs were extended behind me and they bound them around with chains weighing many kilos. In that moment I felt the roar of the throng before the stage. I don’t recall even a single word of what they were shouting. I only know that I was at peace.

"Still believe in God?", the party functionary sneered with his mouth curled.

"Why not?" I responded.

"Since you believe in God, why doesn’t he come to save you?", he said to toy with me.

"God is free to save me or not. Whatever happens, I believe in him firmly."

"Try a little taste of these chains on your legs", he said. And he left.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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9 Responses to St. Vincent, deacon and paradigm of modern martyrs

  1. Diane says:

    Thanks for this Fr. Z. I had read what little there was in the Breviary, but it was so little and I wondered what happened to him.

    My Lord, it is mind boggling to see what early Christians went through, and what some go through in modern times (Fr. Tan). These people sacrificed their bodies, and in many cases their very lives. The Christian values we stand for will always be counter-cultural. However, in free societies today, how often did we not want to sacrifice our popularity among friends, families, and co-workers to be counter-cultural.

    If we are rooted firmly in Christ, we ought all be martyrs – some dying a physical and real martyrdom while others die to self over a long and free life – a type of mystical martyrdom.

  2. Diane: it is mind boggling to see what early Christians went through From the 1956 Roman Martyrology:

    “St. Vincent, Deacon and Martyr, who under the most wicked governor Dacian suffered prison, starvation, the rack, dislocation of his limbs, burning plates, the heated gridiron and other kinds of torture; and in reward for his martydom he departed to heaven.”

  3. If we are rooted firmly in Christ, we ought all be martyrs …

    And while we certainly thank God that we don’t have to suffer the same kind of physical torture as St. Vincent and so many faithful Christians in other times and other places, most of us today can offer up at each Holy Mass our continuing spiritual anguish as individual members of the Body of Christ that has suffered so grievously in our own time during the past forty years.

  4. Dan Hunter says:

    Dear Father Zuhlsdorf,
    There are many, much smaller tortures which Catholics suffer today.
    I am sure many of us have experienced the family alienations that are incured because of standing up for the Catholic Church.
    This past Thanksgiving my wife and I attended the family meal at one home,with over 20 in attendance.Before the eating commenced,I asked the host, who is the husband of my sisters wife,a new age proponent,if I could add a prayer to the grace.He said no problem.
    After one lady gave a benediction to the four winds and the earth goddess,the host offered a more traditional thanksgiving but left out the name of God alltogether,ie:we are thankful for each other and this meal,etc.
    I then stood up,said the Lords Prayer,which all joined in with,and then I offered a prayer for all the babies who had been murderd by the crime of abortion since 1973,just a moment of silence,and thanksgiving to the Almighty for His Divine Providence.
    We all arose to get our food from the buffet table,whereupon the host beckoned me to come outside with him where he proceeded to lay into me for praying for the aborted children.He was red in the face and screamed that,”We don’t believe that in this home,don’t you ever say anything like that again”,over and over again with a strange hatred in his eyes.
    I went inside.Got my wife and went home.
    God bless you.

  5. Dan Hunter says:

    Dear Father Zuhlsdorf,
    There are many, much smaller tortures which Catholics suffer today.
    I am sure many of us have experienced the family alienations that are incured because of standing up for the Catholic Church.
    This past Thanksgiving my wife and I attended the family meal at one home,with over 20 in attendance.Before the eating commenced,I asked the host, who is the husband of my sisters wife,a new age proponent,if I could add a prayer to the grace.He said no problem.
    After one lady gave a benediction to the four winds and the earth goddess,the host offered a more traditional thanksgiving but left out the name of God alltogether,ie:we are thankful for each other and this meal,etc.
    I then stood up,said the Lords Prayer,which all joined in with,and then I offered a prayer for all the babies who had been murderd by the crime of abortion since 1973,just a moment of silence,and thanksgiving to the Almighty for His Divine Providence.
    We all arose to get our food from the buffet table,whereupon the host beckoned me to come outside with him where he proceeded to lay into me for praying for the aborted children.He was red in the face and screamed that,”We don’t believe that in this home,don’t you ever say anything like that again”,over and over again with a strange hatred in his eyes.
    I went inside.Got my wife and went home.
    God bless you.

  6. Dan Hunter says:

    Dear Father Zuhlsdorf,
    There are many, much smaller tortures which Catholics suffer today.
    I am sure many of us have experienced the family alienations that are incured because of standing up for the Catholic Church.
    This past Thanksgiving my wife and I attended the family meal at one home,with over 20 in attendance.Before the eating commenced,I asked the host, who is the husband of my sisters wife,a new age proponent,if I could add a prayer to the grace.He said no problem.
    After one lady gave a benediction to the four winds and the earth goddess,the host offered a more traditional thanksgiving but left out the name of God alltogether,ie:we are thankful for each other and this meal,etc.
    I then stood up,said the Lords Prayer,which all joined in with,and then I offered a prayer for all the babies who had been murderd by the crime of abortion since 1973,just a moment of silence,and thanksgiving to the Almighty for His Divine Providence.
    We all arose to get our food from the buffet table,whereupon the host beckoned me to come outside with him where he proceeded to lay into me for praying for the aborted children.He was red in the face and screamed that,”We don’t believe that in this home,don’t you ever say anything like that again”,over and over again with a strange hatred in his eyes.
    I went inside.Got my wife and went home.
    God bless you.

  7. Dan Hunter says:

    Father Zuhlsdorf I am sorry about the duplicates.I had trouble posting it.
    Please eliminate two of them.
    Thank you.

  8. Martha says:

    All:

    Just a thought that came to me after reading about martyrdom. Sometimes husbands will protest their undying love for their wife, claiming that they will die for them, but often times, in the drudgery of everyday life, they are likely to not even bother to pick up their socks from the bedroom floors.

    It occurs to me that the best preparation for the ultimate test of our Faith will be the fulfillment of our daily duty, and giving witness in public to those occasions which come up in our day-to-day living. Only if one is faithful in these small things, then I believe, one will be able to suffer martyrdom should God ask that of us. If we fail in the little things, like the husbands who don’t pick up their socks, then it can be questioned that one’s protestations of love are the real thing.

    Forgive me if I bore anyone with this. It is just one of my reflections.

    God Bless.

  9. Barb says:

    Dear Father,

    Who painted the beautiful picture you included with the story of Father Tiande? It is truly beautiful.

    Since I was a young child I have feared denying my Faith under torture and I pray for steadfastness in my Faith. Martha’s comments about the dirty socks laying about is so true. If we are faithful in the little things of our state in life, we will receive the strength to face the bigger challenges to our Faith. The quote from St. Augustine regarding the martyrdom of St. Vincent was very consoling.

    Barb