I miss The Sabine Farm very much, even though it is really cold there. I am told that water pipes recently broke at the Farm, though not in my house.
Newer readers might not make the connection, but I call my place in the USA "The Sabine Farm" on the model of the ancient poet Horace’s getaway refuge from Rome back in the day. In any event, I notice things about the Sabine region of Lazio here in Italy.
Today we have a Sabine saint:
5. Reate in Sabina, commemoratio santi Stephani, abbatis, mirae patientiae viri, sicut Sanctus Gregorius papa Magnus scripsit. … At Rieti in the Sabine area [of Latium] the commemoration of St. Stephan, abbot, a man of marvelous patience, as St. Pope Gregory the Great wrote.
We can patristiblog about this fellow for a moment.
What did Gregory the Great write about St. Stephan the Abbot (+ VI c.)?
In Dialogues 4.12, the Pope and Doctor wrote…
1. Sed neque hoc sileam, quod vir venerabilis abbas Stephanus, qui non longe ante hoc in have urbe defunctus est, quem etiam ipse bene nosti, in eadem provinicia Nursiae contigisse referebat. … But I won’t pass over in silence another event in the province of Norcia, told me by Abbot Stephan, who died at Rome just a while ago, a fact you know quite well. …
Thereafter, Gregory recounts that Stephan told him the story of a priest who was married and, though he loved his wife, kept his distance from her entirely, almost as if she were an enemy. When at 40 years of priesthood he was dying of a fever and was completely laid low, she put his ear close to his nose to see if he was still breathing. He summonded the strength to say: "Recede a me, mulier. Adhuc igniculus vivit. Palleam tolle. … Draw back from me, woman. There is still a little flame alive. Take the dry straw away!"
A couple interesting things are here.
First, the wife of the priest is called in Latin "presbytera". This does NOT mean in any way that she was ordained. This was just the way they refered to the spouse of the priest. Here in Rome there is a famous mosaic in the Church of San Prassede depicting a woman Theodora as "episcopa". This means only that she was closely related to a bishop, not that she was bishop.
Second, Pope Symmachus (384-99) had permitted priestly ordination only at at least 35 years of age. So, this priest was some 75 year old when dying, since he was ordained 40 years. The reference to straw seems to resonate with a section of, I think, 1 Kings which deals with how libido can cause the flowers of virtues to catch fire and burn up.
In any event, the story goes on that the old priest started to rally a little and then started exclaiming that he could see St. Peter and Paul there. Again and again he said "Ecce venio, ecce venio." And as he spoke to the apostles, he died. Gregory explains that often the just are permitted visions of the saints when they are at the point of dying so that they won’t be afraid. They can suffer the separation of soul from flesh with the hope of their citizenship in heaven. Fear of death is a constant theme for the Fathers.
But back to St. Stephan. This abbot, perhaps at Norcia, where by the way there is a revival going on under the American Abbot Cassian Folsom, perhaps was in Rome as a refugee as was a certain Eleuterius of Spoleto (cf. Dialogues 3.33.1).