More stuff from the horse’s mouth — okay, St. Eulogius of Cordoba’s mouth. What turned a happy bunch of people living in “security through obscurity” into notorious public Christians?
5. Therefore, not many years ended before it happened that venerable Aurelius went to the forum, on the day when that John, whom we noted earlier in the book, bleeding to the point of murder from a flogging given him out of hatred for Christ’s name, was conveyed out backwards on a donkey colt and bound with chains of immense weight, so that he was bent back over the beast of burden into the trash on the street, hanging there by his legs. Mocking heralds went before him, while helpful accomplices led him around the whole city as a show for the crowd. And when reproachful voices rang out because of this, saying that he had paid a totally unworthy penalty for the crime, of course they did not respect such reverence, attacking it with violent mocking pantomime. Rather, they agreed to beat him to death most disgustingly.
Immediately he was goaded with warlike love of martyrdom, in such a way that a heavenly wind breathed upon him, so that he might believe the spectacle had been done for him, and as an admonition and revelation for his sake. Of course one should not dread those who butcher the body, with no worry of soul for those who can carry it off; but one should be terrified of those who can destroy body and soul, and send them to Gehenna. [See Luke 12:4.]
6. He wondered at John’s steadiness of faith. “Truly it is said, this man’s tent of angelic trust is founded on the rock — that such force of torments did not push him over, nor by disastrous punishments that shook the air. Because if he who carries Christ’s banner reveals Him to their sight, such a great many serious torments he was able to bear by zeal for the Redeemer, when he certainly could have evaded this devastation of suffering by lying. And judging it better to throw away his flesh than ruin his soul, he did not allow them to drag him away from any article of Christ’s religion in an undertone. In what will I believe? Did my education make me worthy to be mocked? Or ought I hand over myself, proving myself through suffering, so that I would gain strength that these reprobates whom I have stared at today would seize me, and I would delight in constancy?”
7. Rumination seized his soul, while already the deep breaths of his calling were spreading through him. He returned home, brought back news to his pious mate about what he had seen, and he adds in a cheerful spirit, “Sweetest spouse, I would live with you forever. And I would be dead to God if you had not sedulously encouraged me. You dragged me to Confession; you came to me daily to wrench me away from the shining pleasures of the present. You preferred the happiness of the eternal kingdom to the gloomy passions of the world. You urged me to leave behind all slipups and all that blocked me from my goal. You preached about monks and praised those who renounced the world, and delighting in religious conversation, you often sighed for the life of the saints.
“But I am not yet cleansed by the sting of supernal grace. I cannot totally acquiesce to saving exhortations. Or rather, perhaps my amendment by God the Father is not yet standing upon a pre-determined warning. Now I will carry out what I have put off — what I had planned in my soul, though feebly. Behold, dearest; already now ‘the acceptable time’ comes, the ‘day of salvation’ is here — on which, recoiling from the exterior and driven back, we should reach out to what before us.
“And first of all, striving for more perfect purity and continence — we should be ‘free for prayer’, so that it will be easier; let us hurry to the rest of holiness. May she be a sister now, who came to me a spouse. May the bed of our coming together in family affection pass away. Our offsprings’ souls should be grown up. Let us raise a spiritual generation, and spurn the soppy joining of body parts. Let us get to know the more excellent mind (withdrawn from the delight of the flesh) that sprouts forth in perpetual safety. For, either way, we may have such labor in meditation as is worthy of the prize of martyrdom.”
The venerable woman supported her husband’s pious plan with a gladdened soul, and rejoicing in multiple ways in the suddenness of unforeseen salvation, she said, “This change is done by the right hand of the Most High. Already this calling of ours is a good omen. This is what I have always wished for, a route together to the heavenly kingdom, so that when our flesh dies, we will live in spirit — which is easier done together, as it is written: ‘God is a spirit; and they that adore him, must adore him in spirit and in truth.’ [John 4:24] Therefore, my lord, since this was not revealed to you in a human way, but the Heavenly Father has directed you to his eternal army already, He wills that you rouse yourself even now to hurry your steps. We should be released from all our chains; we should shake the dust off our feet. We should grow in the desire of everlasting life.”
9. And it happened that the others also agreed to serve God in common. They were in separate beds, but united in vows. Their bedposts outshone clothing in colors of variety, as their conversation was renowned among the common people. But in the inner corners of their tabernacle, they built upon [their bodies] a bloody swelling; they equipped themselves somehow with goatshair blankets, which they separately lay upon. They fasted often; they prayed without ceasing; and as they all had learned from the psalms, they meditated in the night. They conquered the chaos introduced to work by wakeful vigils, and they overcame all such frauds of the demons with eager studies. They served those in want; they managed all the care of the poor.
And because John was still being held in prison at that point, we kept ourselves going to the cavern where he was held to hold up his chains. Also, there were two virgins, Maria and Flora, of course, who then dwelled in a hiding place of women for the sake of the faith. Friendly discourse came frequently among those in fetters; of course, at times the blessed monk Isaac was among them, or other saints who were gifted with tongues that proclaimed the truth. They would confess before princes and judges what they truly were; they had stood up and they had rested on the truth, before them. From that enduring constancy, their strength was augmented to firmness by many virtues. On the other hand, scrutinizing these men, one missed the women held back behind bars.
10. I met them there. I won their friendship there….