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Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume X: October. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

October 23

St. Theodoret, Priest and Martyr

        From his authentic acts mentioned by Sozomen, l. 5, c. 8, and by Theodoret, l. 3, c. 13, published by Mabillon, Vet. Analect. t. 4, p. 127, and by Ruinart, Act. Sinc. p. 592. See Baillet, p. 355.

A.D. 362.

JULIAN, uncle to the Emperor Julian, and likewise an apostate, was by his nephew made count or governor of the East, of which district Antioch was the capital. Being informed that in the treasury of the chief church of the Catholics there was a great quantity of gold and silver plate, he was determined to seize it into his own hands, and published an order by which he banished the clergy out of the city. Theodoret, a zealous priest, who had been very active during the reign of Constantius in destroying idols, and in building churches and oratories over the relics of martyrs, and who was keeper of the sacred vessels (not of the great church then in the hands of Euzoius and his Arians, 1 but of some other church of the Catholics), refused to abandon his flock, and continued openly to hold sacred assemblies with prayers and sacrifices. Count Julian commanded him to be apprehended, and brought before him with his hands bound behind his back. Julian charged him with having thrown down the statues of the gods, and built churches in the foregoing reign. Theodoret owned he had built churches upon the tombs of martyrs, and retorted upon the count, that after having known the true God he had abandoned his worship. The count ordered him to be beaten on the soles of his feet, then buffeted on his face, and afterwards tied to four stakes, and stretched with cords and pullies by his legs and arms; which was done with such violence that his body seemed extended to the length of eight feet. The tyrant jeered him all the time; but the martyr exhorted him to acknowledge the true God, and Jesus Christ his Son, by whom all things were made. Julian ordered that he should be tormented on the rack, and, when the blood was streaming abundantly from his wounds, said to him: “I perceive you do not sufficiently feel your torments.” The martyr replied: “I do not feel them, because God is with me.” Julian caused lighted matches to be applied to his sides. The saint, whilst his flesh was burning, and the fat was melting in drops, lifted up his eyes to heaven and prayed that God would glorify his name throughout all ages. At these words, the executioners fell on their faces to the ground. The count himself was at first affrighted; but, recovering himself, he bid them again draw near the martyr with their torches. They excused themselves, saying they saw four angels clothed in white with Theodoret. Julian in a rage ordered them to be thrown into the water, and drowned. Theodoret said to them: “Go before, my brethren: I will follow by vanquishing the enemy.” The count asked him who that enemy was? “The devil,” said the martyr, “for whom you fight. Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, is he who giveth victory.” He then explained how God sent his Word into the world to clothe himself with human flesh in the womb of a virgin, and that this God made man, suffered freely, and by his sufferings, merited for us salvation. The count, in the impotence of his rage, threatened to put him instantly to death. Theodoret declared that was his desire, and said: “You, Julian, shall die in your bed under the sharpest torments; and your master, who hopes to vanquish the Persians, shall be himself vanquished: an unknown hand shall bereave him of life: he shall return no more to the territories of the Romans.” The count dictated a sentence by which he condemned the martyr to be beheaded; which he underwent with joy, in the year 362. This saint is by some called Theodore; at Uzez, in Languedoc, and at Apt, in Provence (of both which places he is titular saint and principal patron), Theodoric; but his true name is Theodoret.
  On the day of the martyrdom of St. Theodoret, the count, according to an order he had received from the emperor, went and seized the effects of the great church of Antioch, having with him Felix, count of the largesses, or chief treasurer, and Elpidius, count of the private patrimony, that is, intendant of the demesnes, who were also apostates. Felix, as he was viewing the rich and magnificent vessels which the Emperors Constantine and Constantius had given to the church, impiously said: “Behold with what rich plate the son of Mary is served.” Count Julian also profaned the sacred vessels in the most outrageous manner, 2 and these apostates made them the subject of their blasphemies and banter. Their impieties did not remain long unpunished. Count Julian passed the following night with much disquiet, and the next morning presented to the emperor an inventory of what he had seized, and informed him of what he had done with relation to St. Theodoret. Herein he had no other view than to please that prince. But the emperor told him plainly, that he approved not his putting any Christian to death merely on account of his religion, and complained that this would afford an occasion to the Galileans to write against him, and to make a saint and a martyr of Theodoret. The count, who little expected such a reception, remained greatly confounded. The fear with which he was seized permitted him not to eat much at the sacrifice, at which he assisted with the emperor, and he retired to his own house much troubled in mind, so that he would take no nourishment. That evening he felt a violent pain in his bowels, and fell into a grievous and unknown disease. Some of the lower parts of his bowels being corrupted, he cast out his excrements by his mouth, which had uttered so many blasphemies, and the putrified parts bred such a quantity of worms that he could not be cleared of them, nor could all the art of physicians give him any relief. They killed a number of the choicest birds, which were sought at a great expense, and applied them to the parts affected in order to draw out the worms; but they crawled the deeper, and penetrated into the live flesh. They got into his stomach, and from time to time came out of his mouth. Philostorgius says he remained forty days without speech or sense. He then came to himself, and bore testimony of his own impiety, for which he was thus severely punished, and pressed his wife to go and pray for him at church, and to desire the prayers of the Christians. He entreated the emperor to restore to the Christians the churches which he had taken from them, and to cause them to be opened; but he could not obtain from him even that favour, and received only this answer: “It was not I who shut them up; and I will give no orders to have them set open.” The count sent him word, that it was for his sake that he had quitted Christianity, and now perished so miserably; but Julian, without shewing the least compassion, or fearing himself the hand of God, sent him this answer: “You have not been faithful to the gods; and it is for that you suffer such torments.” At length the imposthumes, which spread very far, and worms which gnawed him continually, reduced him to the utmost extremity. He threw them up without ceasing, the three last days of his life, with a stench which he himself could not bear. His nephew Julian lamented him as little when dead as he had pitied him living, and continued to declare, that this calamity befel him because he had not been faithful to the gods. 3 Felix and Elpidius came also to miserable ends. The emperor himself, in Persia, when he was wounded in the side by an arrow from an unknown hand, is related in the acts of St. Theodoret, to have said, casting with his hand some of his blood towards heaven: “Even here, O Galilæan, you pursue me. Satiate yourself with my blood, and glory that you have vanquished me.” He was carried into a neighbouring village, where he expired a few hours after, on the 26th of June, 363, as the author of these acts tell us; who moreover says: “We were with him in the palace at Antioch, and in Persia.” Theodoret and Sozomen agree with him. Philostorgius says that Julian addressed the above-mentioned words to the sun, the god of the Persians, and that he died blaspheming his own gods.  2
  With what inexpressible horrors is the sinner seized when he finds himself overtaken by divine vengeance, or in the jaws of death! In his short-lived imaginary prosperity, it is his study to forget himself: if herein he unhappily succeeds so far as to arrive at a spiritual insensibility, his alarms will be the more grievous when his soul shall be awakened from her lethargy, and the fooleries which at present amuse her and divert her attention, shall have lost their enchanting power. At least his rage, consternation, and despair will but be the more intolerable for eternity. The servant of God finds in his God a solid comfort in all events, reposing in him a confidence which nothing can shake, and ever rejoicing in his holy will, to which with love and assurance he commits himself in life and death. His omnipotence all things obey, and his infinite goodness and most tender mercy are always open and ready to meet us: his servant never calls to mind or names either of these, or any other attribute of God, without feeling an inexpressible interior relish, and sentiment of joy and love. In a filial fear, and sincere compunction for his sins, he ceases not with sweet confidence to invoke his God, his Redeemer, Friend, and Protector begging that he exert his omnipotence, (which is no where so wonderfully manifested as in the pardon of sinners,) and that he display his eternal and boundless mercy in bringing him to true repentance and salvation, and that he ordain all things with regard to him according to his holy will, and to the greater glory of his adorable name.  3
Note 1. Theodoret, l. 3, c. 8. Bolland. t. 6, Man. in T. prælim. p. 9, n. 34. [back]
Note 2. See Tillem. Hist. Eccl. t. 7, p. 395. Jortin’s remarks on Eccl. Hist. vol. 3, p. 277. [back]
Note 3. See the Acts of SS. Bonosus, &c., Aug. 21, t. 8, p. 268. [back]