Home  »  Volume XII: December  »  St. Daniel the Stylite, Confessor

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

December 11

St. Daniel the Stylite, Confessor

THOUGH a love of singularity is vicious, and always founded in pride, sometimes extraordinary paths of virtue may be chosen in a spirit of fervour and humble simplicity, which is discovered by the effects. And true virtue is always so far singular that it is raised above and essentially distinguished from, the manners of the crowd, which ever walks in the broadway, and runs counter to the rules of the gospel, by which a Christian is bound to square his conduct. The manner of living which a Simeon and Daniel Stylites chose by an extraordinary inspiration and impulse of true piety and fervour, is only to be considered by us as an object of admiration; but the ardour, humility, and devotion with which they pursued the means of their sanctification, are imitable by all Christians. Daniel was a native of the town of Maratha near Samosata; at twelve years of age he retired into a neighbouring monastery, where, with astonishing fervour, he embraced all the means of perfection. A long time after, his abbot going to Antioch about the affairs of the church, carried Daniel with him, and passing by Telanissa, went to see St. Simeon on his pillar. That saint suffered Daniel to come up to him, gave him his blessing, and foretold that he would suffer much for Jesus Christ. The abbot dying soon after, the monks would have put Daniel in his place, but he declined it, and returning to see St. Simeon, continued fourteen days in the mandra, 1 or monastery, which was near his pillar. He afterwards undertook a journey to the Holy Land; but St. Simeon appeared to him on the way, and ordered him to steer his course towards Constantinople, which he did. He passed seven days in the church of St. Michael without the walls of that city; then nine years at Philempora in a ruinous abandoned little temple.  1
  After this term he resolved to imitate the manner of life of which St. Simeon had set the example, whose cowl he had obtained of that saint’s disciple Sergius, after his death in 459. St. Daniel chose a spot in the neighbouring desert mountains towards the Euxine sea, four miles by sea, and seven by land, from Constantinople towards the north. A friend erected him a pillar, which consisted of two pillars fastened together with iron bars; whereon another lesser pillar was placed, on the top of which was fixed by other friends a kind of vessel somewhat like a half-barrel, on which he abode, encompassed by a balustrade. 2 The country of Thrace where he lived, was subject to high winds, and very severe frosts; so that his penance was more surprising than that of St. Simeon. The lord of the ground, about the year 463, built him a second pillar, which was stronger and higher than the first. When the saint took his rest he supported himself against the balustrade of his pillar. But by continually standing, his legs and feet were swoln, and full of ulcers and sores. One winter he was found so stiff with cold that his disciples, having soaked some sponges in warm water, ascended the column, and rubbed him therewith to bring him to himself. This did not oblige him to leave his pillar, where he lived till he was fourscore years old. Without descending from it, he was ordained priest by Gennadius, bishop of Constantinople, who, having read the preparatory prayers at the bottom of the pillar, went up to the top of it to finish the rest of the ceremony, and the saint said mass on the top of the pillar: and the first time administered the communion to the patriarch. Afterwards many frequently received the communion at his hands. In 465 a great fire happened at Constantinople, which consumed eight of its regions. St. Daniel had foretold it, and advised the patriarch Gennadius, and the emperor Leo, to prevent it, by ordering public prayers to be said twice a-week; but no credit was given to him. The event made them remember it, and the people ran in great haste to his pillar. The saint, moved with their affliction, burst into tears, and advised them to have recourse to prayer and fasting. Stretching out his hands to heaven, he prayed for them. By his prayers he obtained a son for the emperor Leo, who frequently visited, and greatly respected him; but this son died young, God rather choosing that he should reign in heaven than on earth. Leo caused a small monastery to be built near the saint’s pillar for his disciples. Gubas, king of the Lazi, in Colchis, coming to renew his alliance with the Romans, the emperor carried him to see St. Daniel, as the wonder of his empire. The barbarian king prostrated himself with tears before the pillar, and the holy man was umpire of the treaty between the two princes. Gubas being returned to his own dominions, wrote often to St. Daniel, recommending himself to his prayers. This prince built a third pillar for the saint, adjoining to the other two, in such manner that the middle pillar was the lowest, that the saint might retire upon it for shelter in violent stormy weather: the saint also acquiesced that the emperor Leo should cause a roof to be made over the standing place on the top of his pillar. Unsavoury herbs and roots were St. Daniel’s ordinary diet, and he often fasted some days without sustenance. God honoured him with the spirit of prophecy and the gift of miracles. The sick whom he often caused to come up his pillar, he frequently cured by laying his hands upon them, or by anointing them with the oil of the saints, as it is called in his life; by which we are to understand the oil which burnt before the relics of the saints, in the same manner as St. Sabas cured many with the oil of the cross. The instructions which St. Daniel usually gave to those who resorted to him, wrought the conversion of many sinners; for his words penetrated their hearts, and being enforced by the example of his penitential life, were wonderfully powerful in bringing others into the narrow path of penance and true virtue. Certain persons had his image made of silver, which they placed in St. Michael’s church not far distant from his pillar.  2
  St. Daniel foretold Zeno that God would preserve him in a certain dangerous expedition; also, that he should succeed his father-in-law Leo in the empire, but should lose it for some time, and at last recover it again. The emperor Leo died in January, 474, and Zeno was saluted emperor; but openly abandoned himself to vice as if it had been the privilege of the imperial dignity to account nothing unlawful or dishonourable. Whilst the Huns plundered Thrace, and the Arabs the East, he completed the ruin of his people by tyrranical oppressions. Having quarrelled with his mother-in-law Verina, the widow of his predecessor, he saw himself abandoned, and fled into Isauria, his own country, in the year 475, the second of his reign. Basiliscus, brother to the empress Verina, usurped the throne, but was a profligate tyrant, and declared himself publicly the protector of the Eutychians. He restored Timothy Elurus, Peter the Fuller, and other ringleaders of that heresy; and by a circular letter addressed to all the bishops, ordered the acts of the council of Chalcedon and the letter of St. Leo to be every where anathematized and burnt, condemning the bishops and clerks to be deposed, and the monks and laymen banished, who should refuse to subscribe his letter, or should dare to make mention of the council of Chalcedon. The holy Pope Simplicius wrote strenuously to the tyrant against these proceedings, 3 also to Acacius, patriarch of Constantinople, charging him as his legate to oppose the reestablishment of Timothy at Alexandria, and forbidding mention to be made against the definitions of the council of Chalcedon. Acacius refused to subscribe the tyrant’s letter, put on mourning, covered the pulpit and the altar of his church with black, and sent to St. Daniel Stylites, to acquaint him with what the emperor had done. Basiliscus, on his side, sent to him to complain of Acacius, whom he accused of raising a rebellion in the city against him. St. Daniel replied, that God would overthrow his government, and added such vehement reproaches, that he who was sent durst not report them, but besought the saint to write them, and to seal the letter. The patriarch having assembled several bishops, in his own and their name, sent twice, in the most urgent manner, to entreat Daniel to come to the succour of the church. At length the saint, though with reluctance, came down from his pillar, and was received by the patriarch and bishops with incredible joy. Basiliscus being alarmed at the uproar which was raised in the city, retired to Hebdomum, whither the saint followed him. Not being able to walk for the sores in his legs and feet, he was carried by men, piety paying to his penance on that occasion the honour which the world gave to consuls. The guards would not suffer St. Daniel to enter the palace, who thereupon shook off the dust from his feet, and returned to the city. The tyrant was terrified, went himself to the saint, and threw himself at his feet, begging pardon, and promising to annul his former edicts. The saint threatened him with the thunderbolts of the divine anger, and said to those who stood by: “This feigned humility is only an artifice to conceal designs of cruelty. You shall very soon see the power of God, who pulls down the mighty.” Having thus foretold the fall of Basiliscus, and performed several miracles, he returned to the top of his pillar, where he lived eighteen years longer. Elurus recovered the see of Antioch, and Peter the Fuller that of Alexandria, and Eutychianism was every where encouraged. But Zeno after twenty months returned with an army from Isauria, and Basiliscus fled to the church, put his crown upon the altar, and took sanctuary in the baptistery, together with his wife and son. Zeno sent them to a castle in Cappadocia, where they were starved to death. One of the first things which the emperor did after his return was to pay a visit to St. Daniel Stylites, who had foretold both his banishment and his restoration.  3
  The saint, when fourscore years old, foretold his own death, and caused a short exhortation to be written which he left his disciples, whom he commended to God, and admonished to practice humility, obedience, hospitality, and mortification; to love poverty, maintain constant peace and union, study always to advance holy charity, shun the tares of heresy, and obey the church, our holy mother. Three days before his death he offered the holy sacrifice at midnight, and was visited by angels in a vision. The patriarch Euphemius assisted him in his last moments, and he died on his pillar about the year 494, on the 11th of December, the day which is sacred to his memory both in the Latin and Greek Calendars. See his life carefully compiled in the sixth century, quoted by St. John Damascen, somewhat adulterated as extant in Metaphrastes and Surius. See also Theodorus Lector, Evagrius, and Theophanes. Also Falconius in Ephemerides Græco-Moschas, p. 43.  4
Note 1. Mandra, in Syriac, signifies a shepherd’s tent; and was used for a cluster of cells. [back]
Note 2. Theodor. Lector, l. 1, p. 554; Vit. S. Dan. c. 28, 31. [back]
Note 3. Cond. t. 4. p. 1070; Simplic. ep. 4. [back]