Saint Hermenegild, Martyr

April 13

Today is the feast day of Saint Hermenegild. Ora pro nobis.

Leovigild, Arian King of the Visigoths, had two sons, Hermenegild and Recared, who were reigning conjointly with him. All were Arians, but Hermenegild married a zealous Catholic, the daughter of Sigebert, King of France, and by her holy example was converted to the faith.  (4)

from the Liturgical Year, 1870

It is through a Martyr’s palm-branch that we must today see the Paschal Mystery. Hermenegild, a young Visigoth Prince, is put to death by his heretical father, because he courageously refused to receive his Easter Communion from an Arian Bishop. The Martyr knew that the Eucharist is the sacred symbol of Catholic unity; and that we are not allowed to approach the Holy Table in company with them that are not in the true Church. A sacrilegious consecration gives heretics the real possession of the Divine Mystery, if the priestly character be in him who dares to offer Sacrifice to the God whom he blasphemes; but the Catholic, who knows that he may not so much as pray with heretics, shudders at the sight of the profanation, and would rather die than share, by his presence, in insulting our Redeemer in that very Sacrifice and Sacrament, which were instituted that we might all be made one in God.

The blood of the Martyr produced its fruit: Spain threw off the chains of heresy that had enslaved her, and a Council, held at Toledo, completed the work of conversion begun by Hermenegild’s sacrifice. There are very few instances recorded in history of a whole Nation rising up in a mass to abjure heresy; but Spain did it, for she seems to be a country on which heaven lavishes exceptional blessings. Shortly after this she was put through the ordeal of the Saracen invasion; she triumphed here again by the bravery of her children; and ever since then, her Faith has been so staunch and so pure, as to merit for her the proud title of The Catholic Kingdom.

St. Gregory the Great, a contemporary of St. Hermenegild, has transmitted to us the following account of the martyrdom. The Church has inserted it in her Second Lessons of today’s Matins.

From the book of the Dialogues of Saint Gregory, Pope. 

King Hermenegild, son of Leovigild king of the Visigoths, was converted, from the Arian heresy, to the Catholic faith, by the preaching of the venerable Leander, Bishop of Seville, one of my oldest and dearest friends. His father, who continued in the Arian heresy, did his utmost, both by promises, and threats, to induce him to apostatise. But Hermenegild returned him ever the same answer, that he never could abandon the true faith, after having once known it. The father, in a fit of displeasure, deprived him not only of his right to the throne, but of everything he possessed. And when even this failed to break the energy of his soul, he had him put into close confinement with chains on his neck and hands. Hereupon the youthful king Hermenegild began to despise the earthly, and ardently to long for the heavenly, kingdom. Thus fettered, and wearing a hairshirt, he besought the Omnipotent God to support him. As to the glory of this fleeting world, he nobly looked on it with disdain, the more so as his captivity taught him the nothingness of that which could thus be taken from him.It was the Feast of Easter. At an early hour of the night, when all was still, his wicked father sent an Arian Bishop to him, with this message, that if he would receive Communion from his hands, (the Communion of a sacrilegious consecration!) he should be restored to favour. True to his Creator, the man of God gave a merited reproof to the Arian Bishop, and, with holy indignation, rejected his sinful offer; for though his body lay prostrate in chains, his soul stood on ground beyond the reach of tyranny. The Bishop therefore, returned whence he had come. The Arian father raged, and straightway sent his lictors, bidding them repair to the prison of the unflinching Confessor of the Lord, and murder him on the spot. They obeyed; they entered the prison; they cleft his skull with a sword; they took away the life of the body, and slew what he, the slain one, had sworn to count as vile. Miracles soon followed, whereby heaven testified to the true glory of Hermenegild; for during the night, there was heard sweet music nigh to the body of the King and Martyr,–King indeed, because he was a Martyr.

It is said that lights were seen at the same time burning in the prison. The Faithful were led, by these signs, to revere the body, as being that of a martyr. As to the wicked father, he repented for having imbrued his hands in his son’s blood; but his repentance was not unto salvation, inasmuch as, whilst acknowledging the Catholic Faith to be the true one, he had not the courage to embrace it, for he feared the displeasure of his subjects. When in his last sickness, and at the point of death, he commended his son Reccared, a heretic, to the care of Leander the Bishop, whom he had hitherto persecuted, but from whom he now asked, that he would do for this son what he had, by his exhortations, done for Hermenegild. Having made this request, he died, and was succeeded, on the throne, by Reccared, who taking, not his wicked father, but his martyred brother, as his model, he abandoned the impious Arian heresy, and led the whole Visigoth nation to the true Faith. He would not allow any man to serve in his armies, who dared to continue the enemy of the God of hosts by heresy. Neither is it to be wondered at, that being the brother of a Martyr, he should have become a propagator of the true Faith, for it was by Hermenegild’s merits that he has succeeded in reconciling so many thousands to the great God of heaven. (2)

Saint Hermenegild

by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877

Indegundis, the pious wife of Hermenegild, won her husband, who was educated in the Arian heresy, back to the truth of the Catholic religion ; and thus gradually persuaded him to acknowledge and embrace the same. Next to God, therefore, was the Saint indebted to his wife for obtaining the divine truth, and hence for his salvation. Ah, how beautiful it is when husband and wife, restraining each other from evil, and encouraging each other in doing what is right, both go together into heaven! But on the other hand, how dreadful, how wicked, when one restrains the other from doing good, encouraging thereby the commission of evil, and both go together to everlasting perdition! These observations should lead married people to examine themselves, and reflect how they have acted towards each other in the past, as also how they intend to act in the future. Particularly ought those Catholics, who are married to such as profess a different faith, learn from the pious Indegundis to endeavor to convert their husband or wife to the true Church. To this effect, it is necessary that they evince zeal in the fulfilment of the duties of their religion, and in the kindest manner make their partner acquainted with the divine truth of the Catholic faith. Above all, however, ought they to pray daily to God that He would aid and strengthen them in their endeavors by His Grace. This is a subject which those whom it most concerns should consider well.

Hermenegild, the Son, becomes a Catholic, and martyrdom opens to him the gates of heaven: Leovigild, the father, although recognizing the truth of the Catholic faith, remains a heretic, dies as such, and goes to hell. How terrible is the lesson! How the father will repent during eternity, that he, out of vain fear of losing his crown, or by an insurrection being deprived of life by his heretic subjects, did not embrace the Catholic faith! Just so will be the eternal grief of those who are not Catholics, that they, persuaded by trifling circumstances, continued and died in their error. On the contrary, how inexpressibly great will be the joy of St. Hermenegild, through all eternity, that he, persuaded by his pious wife, determined to receive the Catholic faith, and rather lose his kingdom, suffer cruel imprisonment, even death itself, than abandon the once acknowledged divine truth. His joy all righteous converts may partake of, if they remain firm in the true faith and conduct themselves accordingly. Many of these may in consequence lose their temporal goods, and have other trials to endure, sometimes even from bad Catholics. But hardly one among them will be called upon to suffer such loss, imprisonment or death as St. Hermenegild. Why should they not be as constant as this holy prince was? In consideration of the much greater eternal and heavenly kingdom he would gain, it was not difficult for him to lose sceptre and crown, and even to be deprived of life. If the prince had abandoned the Catholic faith, he would most assuredly have escaped a violent death, and continued in the possession of a temporal kingdom ; but as he had most certainly to lose this by death in the course of a few short years, he would, with it, also have lost the kingdom of heaven. He would have delivered himself from a violent temporal death, but would have precipitated himself into death eternal and everlasting perdition, where he would have to suffer incomparably more than he suffered upon earth. Did he not act much more wisely, when, for the sake of the true faith he not only disdained a short temporal reign, but also bore persecution and torture, than if, by inconstancy, he had lost heaven and had drawn upon himself ceaseless torments? In conclusion, may every one take to heart what Christ our Lord Himself said, and be comforted by His words when he suffers, on account of his conversion, the loss of temporal goods: “Blessed are they that surfer persecution for justice’ sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (St. Matt. v.). (2)

Image: The Triumph of St Hermengild (1654), by Francisco de Herrera the Younger (6)

Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff


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