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

December 10

St. Eulalia, Virgin and Martyr

PRUDENTIUS 1 has celebrated the triumph of this holy virgin, who was a native of Merida, then the capital city of Lusitania in Spain, now a declining town in Estremadura, the archiepiscopal dignity having been translated to Compostella. Eulalia, descended from one of the best families in Spain, was educated in the Christian religion, and in sentiments of perfect piety, from her infancy distinguished herself by an admirable sweetness of temper, modesty, and devotion; showed a great love of the holy state of virginity, and by her seriousness and her contempt of dress, ornaments, diversions, and worldly company, gave early proofs of her sincere desire to lead on earth a heavenly life. Her heart was raised above the world before she was thought capable of knowing it, so that its amusements, which usually fill the minds of young persons, had no charms for her, and every day of her life made an addition to her virtues.  1
  She was but twelve years of age when the bloody edicts of Dioclesian were issued, by which it was ordered that all persons, without exception of age, sex, or profession, should be compelled to offer sacrifice to the gods of the empire. Eulalia, young as she was, took the publication of this order for the signal of battle: but her mother, observing her impatient ardour for martyrdom, carried her into the country. The saint found means to make her escape by night, and after much fatigue, arrived at Merida before break of day. As soon as the court sat the same morning, she presented herself before the cruel judge, whose name was Dacianus, and reproached him with impiety in attempting to destroy souls, by compelling them to renounce the only true God. The governor commanded her to be seized, and, first employing caresses, represented to her the advantages which her birth, youth, and fortune gave her in the world, and the grief which her disobedience would bring to her parents. Then he had recourse to threats, and caused the most dreadful instruments of torture to be placed before her eyes, saying to her, all this you shall escape if you will but touch a little salt and frankincense with the tip of your finger. Provoked at these seducing flatteries, she threw down the idol, trampled upon the cake which was laid for the sacrifice, and, as Prudentius relates, spat at the judge: an action only to be excused by her youth and inattention under the influence of a warm zeal, and fear of the snares which were laid for her. At the judge’s order two executioners began to tear her tender sides with iron hooks, so as to leave the very bones bare. In the mean time she called the strokes so many trophies of Christ. Next, lighted torches were applied to her breasts and sides; under which torment, instead of groans, nothing was heard from her mouth but thanksgivings. The fire at length catching her hair, surrounded her head and face, and the saint was stifled by the smoke and flame. Prudentius tells us that a white dove seemed to come out of her mouth, and to wing its way upward when the holy martyr expired: at which prodigy the executioners were so much terrified that they fled and left the body. A great snow that fell covered it and the whole form where it lay; which circumstance shows that the holy martyr suffered in winter. The treasure of her relics was carefully entombed by the Christians near the place of her martyrdom; afterwards a stately church was erected on the spot, and the relics were covered by the altar which was raised over them, before Prudentius wrote his hymn on the holy martyr in the fourth century. He assures us that “pilgrims came to venerate her bones; and that she, near the throne of God, beholds them, and, being made propitious by hymns, protects her clients.” Her relics are kept with great veneration at Oviedo, where she is honoured as patroness. The Roman Martyrology mentions her name on the 10th of December. See Prudentius De Cor. hymno 9. alias 3. de S. Eulalia; and F. Thomas ab Incarnatione Hist. Ecclesiæ Lusitanæ, sæc. 4. c. 6. p. 217. 2  2
  Another ST. EULALIA, V. M. at Barcelona, is mentioned by Ado, Usuard, &c., but we have no authentic acts of her martyrdom.  3
Note 1. AURELIUS PRUDENTIUS CLEMENS, the glory of the ancient Christian poets, was born in Spain in 348, (Præf. in hymn. in Cathemer. p. 1,) not at Saragossa, as Ceillier and some others mistake; (though he resided there some time in quality of governor;) but at Calahorra, in Old Castile. (Hymn. l. de Cor. p. 116, et hymn. 18, v. 31.) After his childhood he studied eloquence under a celebrated rhetorician, and, according to the custom of the schools in that age, learned to declaim upon all sorts of subjects, and, by pleading, to make a bad cause appear good: which kind of exercises he afterwards severely condemned and repented of, as an art of disguising the truth, and of lying. Isocrates’s panegyrics on Helena and Busiris, show this custom to have been ancient in the schools of rhetoricians: and Cicero mentions several instances of Georgias, &c. (In Bruto, de Orat. § 8.) Prudentius deplores still more bitterly other irregularities into which he had been betrayed in his youth. (Præf. in Cathem. et hymn. 9, de Sanct. Calagurit.) He was made twice governor of provinces and cities in Spain; after which he tells us (Præf. in Cathem.) that the clemency of the prince (Theodosius I. or Honorius) raised him to the highest honours, and, calling him to court, placed him in rank and dignity next his own person; by which is generally understood that he was created prefect of the prætorium. In this distracted station he suffered violent conflicts in his soul, being sometimes full of fervour, and earnestly desiring to serve God; at other times, cooled by the dissipation of the world and the corruption of his own heart. (Psych, sub finem, v. 898, &c.) But when he had devoted himself with his whole heart to the divine service, God became all his joy, he found no sweetness but in him, no comfort or delight but in his Saviour. “Thou art,” says he, “the charming beauty, with whose chaste love I burn, and in whom I find true and sovereign pleasure.” (Apoth. Carm. 4.) When he quited his employments in order to renounce the world, in the vigour of his age, he took a journey to Rome about the year 405, and, passing through Imola, embraced and watered with his tears the tomb of St. Cassian, in bitter compunction for his sins. (De Cor. hymn. 19, de S. Cassiano.) At Rome he saw an infinite number of tombs of martyrs, at which he prayed for the healing of the spiritual wounds of his soul. (De Cor. hymn. 12, de S. Hippolyto, &c.) He passed there the feast of SS. Peter and Paul, (ib.) and, returning into Spain, there led a retired life, and consecrated his leisure hours to the composition of sacred poems; for he wrote only on religious subjects, on which all his thoughts were employed. He has always been esteemed the most learned of the Christian poets. Sidonius Apollinaris (l. 2, ep. 9,) compares his lyrics to the odes of Horace, who (if Phædrus be joined with him) is the sweetest, smoothest, most polished, and elegant writer, not only of the poets, but of all the classics. No verses in Horace or any other poet seem superior to the stanzas which compose the hymns on the Holy Innocents in the office of the church, which are taken from Prudentius on the Epiphany; (Cathemer. hymno 12;) nothing can be finer than the similes and other figures, Salvete flores, &c. Nothing softer or more beautiful than the expressions, Palmâ et coronis luditis, &c. The hymns Nox et tenebræ et nubila, and Lux ecce surgit aureæ, &c., in the church office are almost copied from our poet’s Morning Hymn. (Cathem. hymno 2.) His erudition is displayed in his books against Symmachus; and his genius shines in the majesty, fire, and elegance of his verses, especially his lyrics. Yet he is sometimes careless and incorrect in his versification; and the vigour of his spirit, sentiment, and fancy sometimes flags. Also the Latin language having in this time degenerated from its purity, he deviates from the standard of the Augustan age in certain phrases, and in the accents and quantities of certain words. This defect is not less remarkable in Juvencus, the Spanish priest, author of the Poem on the Life of Christ, in the reign of Constantine the Great, whose verses are also too naked of ornaments and elevation, the soul of poetry.
  SEDULIUS, a priest (according to some a bishop) in Italy, wrote a paschal poem on the miracles of Christ, and some other pious compositions, and flourished under Theodosius the Great: he is commended for correctness and purity of language, and for strength and majesty of style; yet falls short of Prudentius. The Latin Church has inserted in the office for Christmas-day and the Epiphany, hymns extracted from one of Sedulius’s poems; and Bede ascribes to him the hymn A solis ortus cardine, &c. According to Trithemius and others, Sedulius was a Scot from Ireland, an eminent poet, orator, and divine, who, for the love of learning, left his native country, travelled into France, Italy, and Asia, and at length came to be in high esteem at Rome for his great accomplishments. (Trithem. de Script. Eccl. p. 227; Sixt. Sen. Bibl. sacr.) This is also supported by Usher and the Irish writers. (See Antiq. Brit. c. 16; Colgan, Act. SS. p. 320; Ware’s Writers, p. 7, &c.) He is not to be confounded with another Sedulius, called the younger, who lived in the eighth century, wrote on St. Paul’s epistles, and was present at a council held in Rome by Pope Gregory II. He was afterwards made a bishop in Spain, where it is said he wrote a history of the ancient Irish. Harris and others tell us that his MS. written on parchment in the Gothic character, was in the possession of Sir John Higgins, counsellor of state and first physician to Philip V. See Usher, loc. cit.; Ware, p. 47, &c.; also Ceillier, t. 10, p. 632.
  Prudentius in his Psycomachia, or combat of the soul against vice, celebrates the victory of faith over infidelity, of purity over lust, of patience over anger, of pride over humility, of temperance over gluttony, of almsdeeds over covetousness, and of concord over enmity. His Cathemerinon (or book of hymns for every day) consists of hymns of prayer and praise for different times of the day, viz. for morning, night, before and after meals, fast days, after fast days, for Christmas, Epiphany, the lighting of a candle, funerals, &c. Apotheoses is the title which Prudentius gave to his poem in defence of the Deity and the divine attributes. It is a confutation of the idolaters, and of the principal heresies which erred chiefly concerning the godhead, Christ, and the resurrection. Against the Marcionites who established an evil first principle, he composed his Amartigenia, or book on the birth or origin of sin, which he shows to spring from the perversity of the will of a free creature. In the close of this book he makes a humble confession that he deserved all manner of chastisements from a just God, and earnestly prays for mercy, and that whilst others are called to high crowns of glory, he may be purified by the mildest punishment.
  Symmachus, in his petition for the restoration of the idol of victory, presented successively to Gratian, Valentinian II. and Theodosius, in 382, 384, and 388, had failed of success, his design being always defeated by the zeal of St. Ambrose. The army of Honorius, commanded by Stilico, in 403, vanquished Alaric the Goth, near Pollentia, in Liguria; the Roman soldiers began the battle by making the sign of the cross on their foreheads, and the ensign of Christ (that is, the figure of the cross, on the first banner) was carried before the legions, (Prudent. l. 2, adv. Symmachum, p. 710.) Our poet took hence occasion to write two books against Symmachus, which are a spirited, learned, and elegant confutation of idolatry. In the conclusion, he exhorts Honorius to abolish the combats of the gladiators, and not suffer crimes and murders to serve for pastime and pleasure; as his father, Theodosius, had forbid the less criminal combats of bulls. Honorius soon after effectually put an end to those inhuman diversions. The Enchiridion of Prudentius is an abridgment of the sacred history in verse, which had before been the subject of the poems of Juvencus and Sedulius.
  The most famous work of Prudentius is his book [Greek], or on the crowns of martyrs, consisting of fourteen hymns. Le Clerc, the learned French Protestant critic, (p. 310,) makes the following observation on this work: “It clearly appears from several places in these hymns that Christians prayed to martyrs at that time, and believed that they were appointed patrons of some places by God. Certain Protestant writers, who fancy that the tradition of the four or five first centuries ought to be joined with the scripture, have denied that the saints were prayed to in the fourth century. But they should not have framed a notional system before they were well instructed in facts, since they may be convinced of this by several places out of Prudentius. Thus in the first hymn, which is in praise of two martyrs of Calahorra, he says, (v. 10,) Exteri necnon et orbis, &c. ‘Strangers come hither in crowds, because fame has published through the whole world that the patrons of the world (patronos mundi) are here, whose favour may be sought by prayers. Nobody ever offered here pure supplications in vain. Whoever came to pray to them, perceiving all his holy requests were granted him, went away full of joy, having wiped away his tears. These martyrs are so solicitous to intercede for us, that they suffer not that they should be prayed to in vain. Whether it be done with a loud or a low voice, they hear it, and report it to the ears of the Eternal King. Thence plentiful gifts flow bountifully from the fountain itself on earth,—Christ never denied anything to his martyrs.’ Those who desire more proofs,” says Le Clerc, “need only read hymn ii. v. 457; iii. 311; iv. 175, 196; v. 545; ix. 97; x. 139; xiv. 124.” The works of St. Paulinus, St. Ambrose, St. Jerom, St. Austin, St. Basil, St. Chrysostom, &c. demonstrate this to have been the doctrine and practice of the church in the fourth and fifth ages. Le Clerc also takes notice that Prudentius complains that time and the malice of the idolaters had destroyed abundance of acts of martyrs, (hymn i. v. 73,) and that he testifies Rome was full of the tombs of martyrs. (Hymn ii. v. 541; xi. v. 158.) The same critic observes, (p. 316,) that the custom of filling churches with images was practised in Italy in Prudentius’s time, as is clear from his hymn ix. on St. Cassian, (v. 9,) and hymn xi. on St. Hippolytus, (v. 123.) On this latter passage Le Clerc makes the following remark: “It ought to be observed that upon that grave there was a table, or an altar, on which they celebrated the eucharist, (v. 170,) so that the image was placed precisely upon the altar where they are wont to place images now in the Church of Rome.” Le Clerc, Lives of Primitive Fathers, in Prudentius, pp. 316, 317.
  Prudentius mentions with great respect the sign of the cross, the frequent use of which he strongly recommends, as chasing away infernal fiends. (Cath. hym. vi. v. 129, 133, &c.) In describing the labarum, or military ensign, instituted by Constantine, he mentions that a cross was wrought in the banner, or painted upon the flag or streamer, and also that a figure of the cross in solid gold was set upon the shaft, (in Synunach. l. 1, v. 466, 488.) The best editions of Prudentius’s works are those of Weitzius, Nich. Heinsius, Cellarius, Elzevir, and F. Chamillard, for the use of the dauphin of France.
  The most perfect sentiments of Christian virtue are expressed in his poems; and Erasmus declares that, for the sanctity and sacred erudition which are displayed in his writings, he deserves to be ranked amongst the gravest doctors of the church. Prudentius wrote his Cathemerinon in the fifty-seventh year of his age, as he declares in his preface; in which he enumerates all his other works, except the Enchiridion. How long he survived is uncertain. Ecclesiastical writers and some compilers of the lives of saints, give him the title of saint, though his name occurs not in the Martyrologies. (See his works, and the notes collected by Weitzius, Cellarius, and F. Chamillard; also his life compiled by Aldus Minutius, George Fabricius, Le Clerc amongst his Primitive Fathers, p. 281; Baillet, 25th August; Ceillier, t. 17, p. 66. He is not to be confounded with St. Prudentius, bishop of Troyes, who died in 861, and is honoured on the 6th of April. [back]
Note 2. The lessons of the Church of Oviedo, and the acts of St. Eulalia’s martyrdom say she was only twelve years old, and that another holy virgin, named Julia, suffered with her: also that she suffered torments and death under Calpurnianus, Dacian’s lieutenant at Merida. Some object, that only the proconsul could pronounce a capital sentence, as the Emperor Constantius declares. Leg. unica cod. de offic. Procons. et Legat. and as the lawyer, Venuleius Saturninus, shows, Leg. 11, ff. de officio Procons. et Legati. But the lawyers, Paulus and Pomponius, tell us, that proconsuls could, by a special mandate and commission, delegate to a lieutenant such a jurisdiction. Leg. 12 et 13, de officio Procons. [back]