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EIGHTEEN MARTYRS OF SARAGOSSA, AND ST. ENCRATIS, OR ENGRATIA, V. M.
From Prudentlus de Cot hymn. 4. See Vasæus Belga in Chron. Hisp. Breviarium Eborense a Resendio recognitum, an. 1569.
A. D. 304.
ST. OPTATUS, and seventeen other holy men,† received the crown of martyrdom on the same day, at Saragossa, under the cruel governor Dacian, in the persecution of Dioclesian, in 804. Two others, Caius and Crementius, died of their torments after a second conflict, as Prudentius relates.
The same venerable author describes, in no less elegant verse, the triumph of St. Encratis, or Engratia, virgin. She was a native of Portugal. Her father had promised her in marriage to a man of quality in Rousillon, but, fearing the dangers, and despising the vanities of the world, and resolving to preserve her virginity, in order to appear more agreeable to her heavenly spouse, and serve him without hinderance, she fled privately to Saragossa, where the persecution was hottest, under the eyes of Dacian. She even reproached him with his barbarities, upon which he ordered her to be long tormented in the most inhuman manner: her sides were torn with iron hooks, and one of her breasts was cut off, so that the inner parts of her chest were exposed to view, and part of her liver pulled out. In this condition she was sent back to prison, being still alive, and died by the mortifying of her wounds, in 304. The relics of all these martyrs were found at Saragossa in 1389. Prudentius recommended himself to their intercession, and exhorts the city, through their prayers, to implore the pardon of their sins, with him, that they might follow them to glory.*
The martyrs, by a singular happiness and grace, were made perfect holocausts of divine love. Every Christian must offer himself a perpetual sacrifice to God, and by an active submission to his will, a constant fidelity to his law, and a total consecration of all his affections, devote to him all the faculties of his soul and body, all the motions of his heart, all the actions and moments of his life, and this with the most ardent, unabated love, and the most vehement desire of being altogether his. Can we consider that our most amiable and loving God, after having conferred upon us numberless other benefits, has, with infinite love, given us himself, by becoming man, making himself a bleeding victim for our redemption, and in the holy eucharist remaining always with us, to be our constant sacrifice of adoration and propitiation, and to be our spiritual food, comfort, and strength; lastly, by being the eternal spouse of our souls? Can we, I say, consider that our infinite God has so many ways, out of love, made himself all ours, and not be transported with admiration and love, and cry out with inexpressible ardor: My beloved is mine, and I am his. Yes, I will from this moment dedicate myself entirely to him. Why am not I ready to die of grief and compunction that I ever lived one moment not wholly to him! Oh! my soul, base, mean, sinful, and unworthy as thou art, the return which by thy love and sacrifice thou makest to thy infinite God, bears no proportion, and is on innumerable other titles a debt, and thy sovereign exaltation and happiness. It is an effect of his boundless mercy that he accepts thy oblation, and so earnestly sues for it by bidding thee give him thy heart. Set at least no bounds to the ardor with which thou makest it the only desire of thy heart, and thy only endeavor to be wholly his, by faithfully corresponding to his grace, and by making thy heart an altar on which thou never ceasest to offer all thy affections and powers to him, and to his greater glory, and to become a pure victim to burn and be entirely consumed with the fire of divine love. In union with the divine victim, the spotless lamb, who offers himself on our altars and in heaven for us, our sacrifice, however unworthy and imperfect, will find acceptance; but for it to be presented with, and by what is so holy, what is sanctity itself, with what purity, with what fervour ought it to be made!