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Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume VI: June. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

June 1

St. Pamphilus, Priest and Martyr

        From Eusebius, St. Jerom, &c. See Ceillier, t. 3, p. 435.

A.D. 309.

LEARNING is truly valuable when sanctified by piety, and consecrated to the divine honour, to which St. Pamphilus devoted himself and all his labours. He was of a rich and honourable family, and a native of Berytus; in which city, at that time famous for its schools, he in his youth ran through the whole circle of the sciences, and was afterwards honoured with the first employments of the magistracy. After he began to know Christ, he could relish no other study but that of salvation, and renounced every thing else that he might apply himself wholly to the exercises of virtue, and the studies of the holy scriptures. This accomplished master in profane sciences, and this renowned magistrate, was not ashamed to become the humble scholar of Pierius, the successor of Origen in the great catechetical school of Alexandria. He afterwards made Cæsarea in Palestine his residence, where, at his private expense, he collected a great library, which he bestowed on the church of that city. St. Isidore of Seville reckons that it contained near thirty thousand volumes. Almost all the works of the ancients were found in it. The saint established there also a public school of sacred literature, and to his labours the church was indebted for a most correct edition of the holy Bible, which, with infinite care, he transcribed himself; many copies whereof he distributed gratis; for he was of all men the most communicative and beneficent, especially in encouraging sacred learning. 1 He set a great value on the works of Origen, many of which he copied with his own hand. During his imprisonment, he, with Eusebius, composed an Apology for Origen in five books; of which the first, in Rufinus’s Latin translation, is extant among the works of St. Jerom, and is a finished piece. 2 But nothing was more remarkable in this saint than his extraordinary humility, as Eusebius often observes; which the saint himself feelingly expresses in his preface to an abridgment of the Acts of the Apostles. His paternal estate he at length distributed among the poor: towards his slaves and domestics his behaviour was always that of a brother or tender father. He led a most austere life, sequestered from the world and its company; and was indefatigable in labour. Such a virtue was his apprenticeship to the grace of martyrdom.
  In the year 307, Urbanus, the cruel governor of Palestine, caused him to be apprehended, and after hearing an essay of his eloquence and erudition, commanded him to be most inhumanly tormented. But the iron hooks which tore the martyr’s sides, served only to cover the judge with confusion. After this the saint remained almost two years in prison, with several fellow-confessors, of whom two, who were only catechumens, were at the same time purified and crowned by the baptism of fire. Soon after the torturing of St. Pamphilus, Urbanus the governor was himself beheaded by an order of the Emperor Maximinus; but was succeeded by Firmilian, a man not less barbarous than bigoted and superstitious. After several butcheries, he caused St. Pamphilus and Valens, deacon of the church of Jerusalem, a venerable old man, who could repeat the whole Bible by heart, and Paul of Jamnia, a man of extraordinary zeal and fervour, to be brought before him; and finding them still firm in their faith, without putting them again to the rack, passed sentence of death upon them; yet several others suffered before them; for one Porphyrius, a virtuous slave of St. Pamphilus, whom the saint had always treated as a son, and who, out of humility, concealed his abilities, and his skill in writing, asked the judge’s leave to bury their bodies when they should have undergone their punishment. Firmilian, more like a tiger than a man, inquired if he was a Christian, and upon his confessing it, ordered the executioners to torment him with their utmost strength. But though his flesh was torn off to the very bones, and his naked bowels exposed to view, and the torments were continued a long time without intermission, he never once opened his mouth so much as to fetch one groan. He finished his martyrdom by a slow fire, and died invoking Jesus the Son of God. Thus, though he entered the lists after the rest, he arrived first at the crown. Seleucus, a Cappadocian, for carrying the news of the triumph of Porphyrius to St. Pamphilus, and for applauding the martyr’s constancy, was condemned to be beheaded with the rest. He had formerly borne several employments in the army, and had been scourged for the faith in 298; after which time he had lived a father and protector of the poor. Firmilian had in his family a servant, named Theodulus, whom he loved above all the rest of his domestics, for his probity and virtue; but being informed that he was a Christian, and had embraced one of the martyrs, he condemned him to be crucified on the same day. Julian, a zealous Cappadocian catechumen, for embracing the dead bodies of the martyrs in the evening, was burnt at a slow fire, as Porphyrius had been. St. Pamphilus, with his companions above named, was beheaded on the 16th of February, 309; the others here mentioned all suffered on the same day. The bodies of these martyrs were left exposed to be devoured by wild beasts; but were not touched by them, and after four days, were taken away and decently buried. Eusebius of Cæsarea, the church historian, who had been fellow-prisoner with St. Pamphilus, out of respect to his memory, took the surname of Pamphili. Besides what he has said of this martyr in his history, he compiled three books of his life, which are much commended by St. Jerom, who calls them elegant, and says, that in them he excellently set forth the virtues, especially the extraordinary humility of St. Pamphilus. But this work is now lost, though Metaphrastes seems to have borrowed from it his account of this saint.  2
  A cloud of witnesses, a noble army of martyrs by which we are encompassed, teach us by their constancy to suffer wrong with patience, and strenuously to resist evil. Yet so far are we from bearing the crown which is purchased by patience and constancy, and so slothful in watching over ourselves, that we every day suffer the least dust of flies to ruffle our souls and rob us of our treasure. The daily trials we meet with from others or from ourselves, are always sent us by God, who sometimes, like a tender parent, trains us up by strict discipline to virtue and glory; sometimes throws difficulties into our way on purpose to reward our conquest; and sometimes, like a wise physician, restores us to our health by bitter potions. If he at any time punishes our contempt of his love and mercy by severity and chastisements, even these he inflicts in mercy to awake us from our dangerous spiritual lethargy, and to procure us many other spiritual advantages.  3
Note 1. Montfaucon has published (Biblioth. Coislin. pp. 78, 79, 80, 81, 82,) a short exposition of the Acts of the Apostles, made by St. Pamphilus, who employed almost his whole life in writing and adorning the books of the holy scriptures. See ib. c. 20, an account of a copy of the epistles of St. Paul, written in the fifth or sixth century, (kept among the Greek MSS. of the Coislinian library, comprised in that of the abbey of S. Germain-des-Prez at Paris,) collated with a copy of St. Paul’s epistles in the hand-writing of St. Pamphilus, kept in the fifth age in the library of Cæsarea. [back]
Note 2. St. Jerom sometimes ascribes this Apology for Origin to Eusebius, sometimes to others, being persuaded that St. Pamphilus had no share in it. But Eusebius, Socrates, Photius, &c., assure us that St. Pamphilus was the principal author of this piece, though Eusebius had some share with him in it whilst his fellow-prisoner; which is demonstrated by Dom Charles Vincent Le Rue, in his preliminary remarks on his accurate new edition of the first book of this Apology, (Op. Origenis, t. 4, part 2, p. 13,) the other five being lost. Of these, only the last was composed by Eusebius, after the martyrdom of St. Pamphilus, as Photius assures us. See Huet, Origeniana, l. 2, quæst. 14, c. 3, and Ch. Vinc. Le Rue, ib. p. 257. [back]