Saint Primus and Saint Felicianus’ feast day today. Orate pro nobis.
By Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
Primus and Felicianus, two holy martyrs, were brothers and natives of Rome. They were renowned on account of their birth and wealth, but still more on account of the blameless life they led and their determination to remain constant in the true faith, though they knew the suffering which was in store for them as well from their pagan parents, as from other persecutors of the Christian faith. At that period the emperors Dioclesian and Maximian reigned, and the Christians were most cruelly persecuted. Many of them were cast into prison, while others were put: to death by the most barbarous torments. The two zealous brothers visited the imprisoned Christians frequently, and sacrificed all their possessions to comfort them, while they cheered and encouraged those that were led to execution, exhorting them to remain faithful to Christ. The idolatrous priests could not endure this, and incited the people against the two holy brothers, as against two sworn enemies of the gods, and accused them before the Emperor, demanding their execution.
Both were brought before the Emperor and called upon to renounce their faith: they, however, said fearlessly, that they would rather die, than obey the Emperor in this point. They were cast into a dungeon and heavily chained. But in the first night an angel appeared to them, who loosed their fetters and set them free. They immediately returned to their former kind deeds not willing to save their lives by flight, as many advised them to do. The Emperor, being informed of this, summoned them into his presence, and endeavored more than before, by promises and menaces to persuade them to abjure their faith, and at last sent them to the temple of Hercules to offer incense to this idol. Both brothers refused to obey, and the Emperor gave orders that after having been scourged, they should be taken to the Governor of Momentum, a village about 12 miles from Rome, and very hostile to the Christians. Before they were led thither, an angel again appeared and healed their wounds. No sooner had the two Christian heroes appeared before Promotus, the cruel Governor of the town, than he ordered them to be beaten with clubs until they should change their minds. This was a punishment ordained by law only for slaves and other low people, and the tyrant had it executed upon the two noble brothers in derision of their faith.
It was a most painful punishment as the clubs were scourges twisted together of many cords, with leaden balls fastened at the end. With these the condemned were whipped on the bare back and neck. The two holy brothers had to endure this martyrdom, and were more cruelly whipped than the greatest criminals. They, however, manifested no sign of pain, but encouraging each other, they united in praising God, humbly begging His assistance: “Strengthen us, O God!” cried they; “be with us O God! Our only hope, strengthen us, that all may recognize Thee as the only true God.” The torture was prolonged until the executioners, tired out with whipping, were no longer able to torment the Saints. The Governor wondered at the constancy, or, as he said, the obstinacy of the two brothers, and to cause them sooner to obey him, he separated them and had them confined in different prisons.
A few days later, he had Felicianus alone brought before him, to whom he said: “Is it not a contemptible blindness that you should persist in ending your days in agony,” (Felicianus was 80 years old) “when, by obeying the Emperor, you have the opportunity of closing your life honored and favored by him?” The Saint replied: “Is it not a much more contemptible blindness that you, a man of so much mind and importance, should worship a piece of wood as God, and thus cast yourself, after the few short days of life, into never-ending pains and torments, while you have the opportunity, by receiving the true faith, to make yourself eternally happy with the true God? “These fearless words enraged the Governor beyond endurance, and he ordered the Saint to be fastened to a pole by an iron nail, and there to be left hanging. The Saint, casting his eyes towards heaven, said: “I have placed my trust in God; I shall not fear the hand of man.”
Three days the hero had to remain on the pole, after which he was taken back to prison. Meanwhile Promotus had Primus brought before him and said to him that at last the eyes of his brother Felicianus had been opened, and that he had sacrificed to Jupiter, for which reason the Emperor had raised him to the highest dignities, and that Primus might expect the same favors if he followed his brother’s example. But Primus knew the constancy of his brother, as an angel had revealed it to him. Hence he reproved Promotus with earnest words. Enraged at this, the governor said: “Either you will immediately sacrifice to Jupiter, or I shall deal with you more cruelly than with all the others.” “I sacrifice to the true God only,” replied Primus, “and fear not your cruelties.” Hardly had these words passed his lips, when the tyrant gave orders to scourge him with hard thongs, until his whole body was one great wound. After this they burned him for a long time with torches. Primus’s countenance was bright and cheerful during this inhuman torture. To prevent this, by command of the tyrant, they poured melted lead into his mouth. How terrible must have been this suffering is easily to be conceived. Constantine the Great had ordered this kind of punishment for those who by impure language had seduced others to unchastity. “Whoever with impure speeches seduces any one to unchastity,” says the law, ” shall have his mouth closed with melted lead.” The tyrants had already in earlier times used this punishment to torture the Christians.
St. Primus was sentenced to this suffering in order that he might no longer praise the true God. He, however, swallowed the lead without the least sign of pain, and then turning to Promotus, said: ” Acknowledge at length, unhappy man, the omnipotence of my God, and be converted to Him that you may not go to eternal damnation.” Promotus, furious and unwilling to hear more, ordered the brothers to to be cast to the wild beasts. The order was obeyed, but neither the fiercely roaring lion, nor the cruel bear, which they let loose upon them, harmed either of them, but crouching at their feet, thus evinced their reverence for the holy men. Many of the heathens, who witnessed this spectacle, were so deeply touched by the miracle, that they cried: ” Great is the God of the Christians, and He alone is the true God!” Promotus, fearing an insurrection, had both the valiant confessors decapitated without loss of time; and thus they, both, after many heroic battles, obtained the crown of immortality in heaven, in the year of our Lord 287., (2)
Primus and Felician, wealthy Romans, had already attained maturity of age, when our Lord made his voice heard inviting them to forsake their vain idols. Brothers according to the flesh, they now became more really such by fidelity to the same call of grace. Together they proved themselves intrepid helpers of the confessors of Christ amidst the atrocious persecution which raged against the Church during the latter half of the third century. In the same combat were they to fall side by side, exchanging this frail life here below for that into which, at one birth, they were to enter for ever in heaven. They furthermore were honoured by having their precious relics placed in the celebrated sanctuary consecrated to St Stephen, the Proto-Martyr, on Monte Cœlio; and they form its richest treasure.
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