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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Saint Lawrence

Luca Cambiaso 1527-1585 (Genoese painter)
Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence
Pen and ink (brown), watercolour (brown) on paper
Height: 24.3 cm; Width: 35.3 cm
Stamped, ink (green), lower right hand corner, recto, collector's mark of St. Styr, initials within a square, not in Lugt:
Courtauld Institute Art Gallery, London




On Sunday 30th November 2008, Pope Benedict XVI will pay a pastoral visit to the Roman basilica of San Lorenzo for the 1,750th anniversary of the martyrdom of the deacon saint.

St Lawrence (Lorenzo) is the patron saint of the Cathedral in Genova (Genoa)

Therefore the post reflects the ideas of two Genoese: the artist Luca Cambiaso (above) and Fr Francesco Moraglia, Professor of Dogmatic Theology, Genova (below)


"Lawrence is believed to have been born in Spain, at Osca, a town in Aragon, near the foot of the Pyrenees. As a youth he was sent to Saragoza to complete his humanistic and theological studies. It was here that he first encountered the future Pope Sixtus II, who was of Greek origin. He was a teacher in what was then one of the most renowned centres of learning. The future Pope was one of the most famous and esteemed teachers.

Lawrence, who would subsequently become the head of the deacons of the Roman Church, was remarkable for his human qualities, his subtlety of mind and for his intelligence. Between master and disciple a communion of life and friendship grew. With the passage of time a love for Rome, the centre of Christianity and seat of the Vicar of Christ was consolidated and grew stronger in both.

Eventually, following a migratory wave which was then very pronounced, both left Spain for the City where the Apostle Peter had established his See and given supreme witness. Thus Master and disciple were able to realize their ideal of evangelization and missionary activity to the point of shedding their blood, in Rome, the heart of Christianity.

Sixtus was raised to the Chair of Peter and began a pontificate that would last for less than a year. Without hesitation, he desired to have Lawrence, his friend and disciple, at his side so as to entrust to him the important office of proto-deacon. Both sealed their life of communion and friendship by dying at the hands of the same persecutor, a few days apart from each other.

St Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, preserves an account of the death of St Sixtus in one of his letters. Commenting on the situation of great uncertainty and unease in which the Church found herself because of increasing hostility towards Christians, he notes:

"The Emperor Valerian has consigned tothe Senate a decree by which he has determined that all Bishops, Priests and Deacons will be immediately put to death".

Cyprian then continues:

"I communicate to you that Sixtus suffered martyrdom on 6 August together with four Deacons while they were in a cemetery. The Roman authorities have established a norm according to which all Christians who have been denounced must be executed and their goods confiscated by the Imperial treasury" (CSEL 3, 839-840).

The cemetery to which the holy Bishop of Carthage alludes is that of St Callixtus. Sixtus was captured here while celebrating the Sacred Liturgy. His remains were entered in the cemetery of St. Calixtus after his martyrdom.

In his De Officiis (1, 41, 205-207) we have Ambrose's particularly eloquent account of the martyrdom of St Lawrence. It was subsequently taken up by Prudentius and by St Augustine. Hence it passes to Maximus of Turin, St Peter Chrisologus and to Leo the Great before emerging again in some of the formularies of the Roman Sacramentals, the Missale Gothicumm and in the Caerimoniale Visigoticum (Bibliotheca Sanctorum, .....1538-1539).

Ambrose dwells, firstly, on the encounter and dialogue of Lawrence and Sixtus. He alludes to the distribution of the Church's goods to the poor and ends by mentioning the grid-iron, the instrument of Lawrence's torture, and remarks on the phrase which the proto-Deacon of the Roman Church addresses to his torturers: "assum est...versa et manduca" (cf. Bibliotheca Sanctorum ...., col 1538-1539).

We shall dwell on the Ambrosian text of the De Officiis (Cap. 41,nn. 205-206-207), which is very moving in its intensity and strength of expression.

Thus writes St Ambrose:

"St Lawrence wept when he saw his Bishop, Sixtus, led out to his martyrdom. He wept not because he was being let out to die but because he would survive Sixtus. He cried out to him in a loud voice:

'Where are you going Father, without your son? Where do you hasten to, holy Bishop, without your Deacon? You cannot offer sacrifice without a minister. Father, are you displeased with something in me? Do you think me unworthy? Show us a sign that you have found a worthy minister. Do you not wish that he to whom you gave the Lord's blood and with whom you have shared the sacred mysteries should spill his own blood with you? Beware that in your praise your own judgment should not falter. Despise the pupil and shame the Master. Do not forget that great and famous men are victorious more in the deeds of their disciples than in their own. Abraham made sacrifice of his own son, Peter instead sent Stephen. Father, show us your own strength in your sons; sacrifice him whom you have raised, to attain eternal reward in that glorious company, secure in your judgment".

In reply Sixtus says:

"I will not leave you, I will not abandon you my son. More difficult trials are kept for you. A shorter race is set for us who are older. For you who are young a more glorious triumph over tyranny is reserved. Soon, you will see, cry no more, after three days you will follow me. It is fitting that such an interval should be set between Bishop vand Levite. It would not have been fitting for you to die under the guidance of a martyr, as though you needed help from him. Why do want to share in my martyrdom? I leave its entire inheritance to you. Why do need me present? The weak pupil precedes the master, the strong, who have no further need of instruction, follow and conquer without him. Thus Elijah left Elisha. I entrust the success of my strength to you".

This was the contest between them which was worthy of a Bishop and of a Deacon: who would be the first to die for Christ (It is said that in tragedy, the spectators would burst into applause when Pilade said he was Orestes and when Orestes himself declared that he was Orestes) the one who would be killed instead of Orestes, and when Orestes prevented Pilades from being killed in place of himself. Neither of these deserved to live for both were guilty of patricide. One because he had killed his father, the other because he had been an accomplice in patricide.)

In the case of Lawrence, nothing urged him to offer himself as a victim but the desire to be a holocaust for Christ. Three days after the death of Sixtus, while the terror raged, Lawrence would be burned on the grid-iron: "This side is done, turn and eat". With such strength of soul he conquered the flames of the fire"(Ambrose, De Officiis)."


From :ST LAWRENCE-PROTO-DEACON OF THE ROMAN CHURCH by Fr Francesco Moraglia, Professor of Dogmatic Theology, Genova on the Vatican website