Document: Letter 22
Date: 386
Addressee: Marcellina
English Translation: FC 26.376-384
Summary of Contents: Account of the discovery of the saints Gervasius and Protasius

Ordinarily, I do not leave your Holiness unacquainted with the events taking place here in your absence. You should know, then, that we have found some holy martyrs. When I had consecrated the basilica, many persons with one accord began appealing to me, saying: “Consecrate this as you did the Roman basilica.” “I will,” I said, “If I find relics of martyrs.” And at once I was seized, as it were, with a great presentiment of some sort of divine sign.

In short, the Lord bestowed His favor. Even the clergy were afraid when I bade them clear away the ground in the spot before the grating of Sts. Felix and Nabor. I found encouraging signs. And when certain persons were brought forward to have my hands laid on them [in blessing], the holy martyrs began driving away [the evil spirit], so that before I had said anything one woman was seized and thrown forward at the holy burial place. We found two men of wondrous stature, such as ancient ages bore. The bones were all intact and there was much blood. A great throng of people was there during these two days. In short, we arranged everything in orderly fashion. As it was close to evening, we transferred them to the basilica of Fausta. All that night watch was kept and blessings were given. The next day we transferred them to that which is called the Ambrosian Basilica. While they were being transferred a blind man was cured. My sermon to the people was as follows :

When I consider the overflowing and unprecedented number in this gathering of yours, and the gift of divine grace which has shone forth in the holy martyrs, I confess I feel unequal to this task, nor can we express with words what we can scarcely understand with the mind or grasp with the eye. But when the regular reading of the holy Scriptures began, the Holy Spirit who spoke by the Prophets bestowed His gift so that we might utter something worthy of so great a throng and your hopes and the merits of the holy martyrs.

“The heavens declare the glory of God.” When this psalm is read, the thought occurs that it is not the material elements but heavenly graces which seem to offer worthy praise to God. Yet, today, it is evident from the chance reading of the lesson what heavens declare the glory of God. See on my right hand, see on my left, these most sacred relics! See these men of heavenly manner of life! Look at the rewards of a great soul! These are the heavens which declare the glory of God; these are the works of His hands which the firmament proclaims. It was not the charm of the world but the grace of God at work which brought them to the firmament of the most holy passion. In fact, long ago, their characters and virtues were tested and bore witness of them because they remained firm against the hazards of this world.

Paul was a heaven when he said: “Our citizenship is in heaven.” James and John were heavens, and for this reason they are called ‘Sons of Thunder.’ In fact, John, like heaven, saw the Word with God. The Lord Jesus Himself was a heaven of everlasting light when He revealed the glory of God, but a glory which no one had beheld before. And so He said: “No one has at any time seen God. The only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has revealed him.” If you also are seeking for the works of God’s hands, hear Job when he says: “The spirit of God who made me.” Thus strengthened against the temptations of the Devil, he held the path of constancy without stumbling. But let us proceed to the remaining verses.

“Day,” it is said, “unto day heralds the message.” See the true days which no mist of night makes false. See the true days of full light and brilliance everlasting which herald the work of God, not with foolish talk, but firm in the confession of Him from the innermost heart, persevering in martyrdom.

Another psalm which was read says: “Who is as the Lord our God who dwells on high, and looks down on the low things in heaven and in earth?” God, no doubt, casts His eyes on the lowly, He who laid bare the relics of the holy martyrs of His Church, lying hid under the lowly turf, their souls in heaven, their bodies in the earth: “Raising up the needy man out of the dust, lifting up the poor man out of the dunghill,” placing him, as you see, with the princes of his people. Who are we to think of as the princes of his people if not the holy martyrs in whose number long ago the unknown Protase and Gervase were given place? They now cause the Church at Milan, barren of martyrs, now the mother of many children, to rejoice in the glory and examples of their suffering.

This should not be unlike the true faith: “Day unto day heralds the message,” soul unto soul, life unto life, resurrection unto resurrection. “And night unto night makes it known,” that is, flesh unto flesh whose suffering reveals to all its true knowledge of faith. Those nights are good, those nights are clear in which there are stars, “For as star differs from star in glory, so also with the resurrection of the dead.”

With good reason do people call this the resurrection of the martyrs. But I will see whether the martyrs arose for their advantage or for ours. You know, and, in fact, have seen many persons cleansed of the evil spirits. And many who touched the clothing of the saints with their hands were rid of sicknesses which troubled them. Miracles from times past are beginning anew as when at the coming of the Lord Jesus great grace poured itself upon the earth. You have seen how many have been healed by the mere shadow of the bodies of the saints. How many handkerchiefs have been passed about! How many garments which were laid upon the sacred relics are now said to possess healing power in their very touch! Everyone is glad to touch the outer cloth and touching it he will be cured.

Thanks be to you, O Lord Jesus, for having aroused the spirit of the martyrs at this time when Your Church needs greater protection. Let everyone know the kind of defenders I need, those who can fight back but are not wont to attack. These I have secured for you, O holy people, so that they will bring help to all and harm to none. I am soliciting defenders like these, I do not have soldiers like these soldiers, that is, who are not of the world, but soldiers of Christ. With such as these, I fear no ill-will; the greater the number of them, the safer are my defenses. And I hope for the protection from them for the very ones who grudge them to me. Let them come and see my bodyguards. I do not deny that I am surrounded with such arms: “Those are strong in chariots, these in horses, but we will be great in the name of the Lord our God.”

The text of holy Scripture tells how Eliseus spoke to his servant who was afraid when he was surrounded by the army of the Syrians and bade him not to fear: “Because,” he said, “there are more with us than against us.” To prove this he prayed that the eyes of Giezi be opened, and, when they were opened, he [Giezi] saw countless hosts of angels. Although we cannot see them, we feel that they are present. Our eyes were closed as long as the bodies of the saints lay hidden under cover. The Lord has opened our eyes; we have seen His troops which have so often protected us. Formerly, we did not see them, although we had them. Then, because we were afraid, the Lord said, as it were: “Behold the great martyrs whom I have given you.” So with our eyes unsealed we look upon the glory of the Lord which took place in the past in the sufferings of the martyrs and is present in their works. Brethren, we have escaped no slight load of shame, for we had patrons and did not know it. We have found this one thing in which we appear to surpass our elders we have regained the knowledge of the saintly martyrs which they had lost.

The glorious relics are rescued from an inglorious tomb; the trophies are exhibited to heaven; the tomb drips with blood; the marks of the bleeding triumph appear; the undisturbed relics are found on the spot in perfect order, with the head torn from the shoulders. Old men say now that they used to hear other names given to these martyrs and that they have read their inscription. The city which had carried off the martyrs of others had lost her own. Although this is the gift of God, I cannot deny the grace which the Lord Jesus has granted in the time of my bishopric. And because I myself am not worthy to be a martyr, I have secured these martyrs for you.

Let the triumphant victims take their place where Christ is the victim. Let Him be above the altar who suffered for all; let them be beneath the altar who were redeemed by His suffering. This is the spot that I had destined for myself, because it is fitting that a bishop rest where he was wont to offer the Holy Sacrifice. But I yield the right-hand portion to the sacred victims, that place is owed the martyrs. Let us therefore bury the sacred relics, carrying them to worthy resting places, and let us celebrate the entire day with the worship of faith.

The people shouted that the burial of the martyrs should be postponed to the Lord’s day. Finally, however, it was agreed to have it take place the following day. On that day the sermon which I gave to the people was like this:

Yesterday I explained the verse: “Day unto day heralds the message,” in so far as the range of my ability carried me. Today, holy Scripture seems not only to have prophesied in the past but also to be doing so in the present. For, when I see the throngs of your Holiness continuing day and night, the words of the Prophet’s song declare that these days, yesterday and today, are those of which it is most fittingly said: “Day unto day heralds the message,” and those nights of which it is very suitably calculated that “night unto night makes it known.” For what except the Word of God have you heralded for two days from the bottom of your hearts and given proof that you have a knowledge of the faith?

Yet, the usual ones grudge you this celebration. And because they cannot understand your celebration with their envious minds they hate the reason for it. They reach such folly as to say that there are no merits in the martyrs, although even the evil spirits admit them. But this is not strange. Indeed, so great is the lack of faith of the unbelieving that the confession of the Devil is more tolerable. For the Devil said: “Jesus, Son of the living God, why have you come to torment us before the time?” And when the Jews heard this they still denied that He was the Son of God. Now, you have also heard the demons crying out and admitting to the martyrs that they cannot bear their punishment, saying: “Why have you come to torment us so severely?” And the Arians say: “These are not martyrs, nor can they torment the Devil, nor free anyone,” although the torments are attested by the words of the demons themselves, and the benefits of the martyrs are disclosed by the cures of those who were healed and the testimony of those who were set free.

They say that the blind man has not been given his sight, but he does not say he was not healed. He says: “I see, I who did not see.” He says: “I have ceased to be blind, and he proves it by the fact. They deny the benefit who cannot deny the fact. This man is well known, for he was an employee of the state when he was well, a man named Severus, a butcher by trade. He gave up his employment when his affliction befell him. He calls to witness the men whose kindness formerly supported him; he summons those as witnesses of his healing whom he used to have as witnesses and judges of his blindness. He cries out, saying that when he touched the hem of the martyrs’ garment in which the sacred relics were covered light was restored to him.

Does this not resemble the account we read in the Gospel? We praise the power of the one Author; it makes no difference whether it is a work or a gift, since He gives a gift in His work and He works in His gift. What He enjoins others to do, this His name works in the works of others. We read, therefore, in the Gospel that the Jews, when they saw the restoration of health in the blind man, asked proof from his parents. They asked them: “How is it your son sees?” when he said: “Whereas I was blind, now I see.” In this case, too, the man says: “I was blind and now I see. Ask others if you do not believe me. Ask strangers so that you will not think that my parents are under agreement to me.” Their obstinacy is more hateful than that of the Jews. When they were in doubt, they asked the parents. These ask in secret and openly deny. No longer do they disbelieve the work, but the Author.

But what is it, I ask, which they do not believe? Is it whether persons can be healed by martyrs? This is to fail to believe in Christ, for He Himself said: “And greater than these you will do.” Or [do they ask whether persons can be healed] by those martyrs whose merits for a long time were vigorous, whose bodies were found long ago? Here now I ask: Do they grudge me or the holy martyrs? Can I perform any miracles? Can anything be done by my work, in my name? Why, then, do they grudge me what is not mine? If they grudge the martyrs (for it still remains that, if they do not grudge me, they seem to grudge the martyrs), they show that the martyrs were of another faith than what they believe. For no other reason would they envy their works unless they realized that the faith in them was other than their own, that faith which was established by the tradition of the fathers, which the devils themselves cannot deny, although the Arians do so.

We have heard those who had hands laid on them say today that no one can be saved unless he believes in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, that he is dead and buried who denies the Holy Spirit and does not believe in the omnipotence of the Trinity. The Devil admits this, but the Arians do not wish to profess it. The Devil says: “Let him who denies the Godhead of the Holy Spirit be tormented as he was by the martyrs.”

I do not accept the Devil’s testimony, but I do accept his confession. The Devil spoke unwillingly under duress and torment. Torture exacts that which wickedness suppresses. Although the Devil yielded to blows, the Arians do not know how to yield. How like Pharaoh have they suffered many misfortunes and are hardened by their misfortunes! The Devil said those words which we read: “I know who you are, you are the Son of the living God.” The Jews said: “We do not know who he is.” The devils said today and yesterday and last night: “We know that you are martyrs.” And the Arians say: “We do not know, we do not want to know, we do not want to believe. The devils say to the martyrs: “You have come to destroy us.” The Arians say: “The torments of the devils are not real; they are feigned and empty mockery.” I have heard of many things being imagined, but no one could ever feign this and pretend that he was a devil. What is it which we see so disturbs them on whom a hand is laid? Where is there room for deceit? Where is there a trace of pretense?

Yet I do not make use of the statement of the demons as a support for the martyrs. Their holy suffering is proved by its benefits. It has judges, but they are those who have been cleansed; it has witnesses, but they are those who were set free. The proof of those who came here ill is worth more, for their healing attests it. The proof which blood sends forth is stronger, for blood has a piercing voice which reaches from earth to heaven, as you read that God said: “The blood of your brother cries out to me.” Here blood cries out by disclosing its color; blood cries out by publishing its work; blood cries out by the triumph of its suffering. Your petition has been granted to postpone until today yesterday’s burial of relics.

Translation from FC 26.376-384, adapted by SMT

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